To the Editor: Responds to Gleason comments

Mr. Gleason – we are writing on behalf of Western Growers Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation regarding the draft groundwater sustainability plan that was submitted by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority to the Department of Water Resources on June 3, 2020.

Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. Our members and their workers provide over half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including nearly half of America’s fresh organic produce.

The California Farm Bureau Federation is a non-governmental, non-profit, voluntary membership California corporation whose purpose is to protect and promote agricultural interests throughout the state of California and to find solutions to the problems of the farm, the farm home and the rural community. Farm Bureau is California’s largest farm organization, comprised of 53 county Farm Bureaus currently representing nearly 34,000 agricultural, associate and collegiate members in 56 counties.

Both of our organizations were active stakeholders in the development of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014. The legislation explicitly states that it does not alter any water rights and further reserved the authority to make such determinations to the courts. (Water Code section10720.5, 10726.8(b). Further, the legislation adds Water Code section 10720.5(b) which states nothing in the legislation “determines or alters surface water rights or groundwater rights under common law or any provision of law that determines or grants surface water rights.” Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and project proponents must abide by water rights law in groundwater sustainability plan development (Water Code § 10723.2). Overlying landowners hold senior groundwater rights and therefore have the right to put it to reasonable and beneficial use. The California Legislature has declared that the irrigation of agriculture is one of the highest and best uses of water in the State, second only to domestic use. (Wat. Code, § 106.)

It is shocking that the IWVGA Plan reserves 100 percent of the basin’s sustainable yield to the U.S. Navy — an entity expressly not subject to SGMA or the Plan – and denies overlying landowner farmers any groundwater allocation at all, unless they pay the Authority $2,130 per acre foot. This egregious Plan contradicts the express provisions of SGMA and will decimate agriculture in your basin area.

It is clear the IWVGA did not discharge its duty to consider the interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater, as well as those responsible for implementing groundwater sustainability plans as required under Sec. 10723.2. These interests include, but are not limited to, all holders of overlying groundwater rights – not just the Navy and the City of Ridgecrest. A legitimate and objective consideration of the interests of overlying agricultural landowners would inescapably conclude that pricing their groundwater at $2,130 per acre foot is functionally equivalent to forcing them out of business and, for those engaged in the cultivation of permanent crops, amounts to a taking.

On behalf of our members and agricultural communities throughout California, we urge that you revise the Plan to fairly and objectively take into account the needs of agriculture, and dispense with the pretext of reserving water for the U.S. Navy since it is not subject to the Plan in the first place and have otherwise openly expressed a need for less than 25% of the groundwater you have allocated to it.

David Puglia, Western Growers Association president and CEO

Christian C. Scheuring, California Farm Bureau Federation managing counsel

Story First Published: 2020-10-16