The Central Valley of California is one the nation’s main sources of fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts. Over the last couple decades, the Central Valley has struggled with water supplies because of federal management and drought. In light of limited surface supplies, water managers in the valley have come up with creative solutions to make the most of each drop and sustain the economic engine of rural California. This issue of Irrigation Leader focuses on those solutions.
In our cover interview, we speak to Nathan Draper, general manager of the Selah-Moxee Irrigation District (SMID), in the Yakima Valley. SMID is looking to participate in the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YRBWEP), a partnership among federal, state, and local entities to conserve water, help fish, and invest in district infrastructure. Although the federal water management framework differs significantly from that in the Central Valley, YRBWEP serves as a good model for effective collaboration between local and federal partners. For SMID, Mr. Draper explains, “[t]here is a clear economic benefit to having adequate, reliable, and efficient water supplies available to our growers. We also know that there are environmental benefits to our projects, especially the increased river flows that help fish.”
We hear from several water districts in the Central Valley. Anthea Hansen of the Del Puerto Water District discusses the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program. The innovative project develops a new supply for Central Valley growers by bringing recycled water from the cities of Turlock and Modesto to the Delta-Mendota Canal. “This is a project that is actually going to turn the course of the future for our landowners and protect the value of their investments.”
Another beneficiary of the North Valley project is the Grassland Water District, which is dedicated to providing water for wetlands. Manager Ric Ortega notes, “We are trying to use our position to bring . . . opposing sides together to work on collaborative projects. Agriculture has been an important partner in the preservation of wetlands, especially north of the delta.”
The San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) oversees the 29 water agencies—including Del Puerto and Grassland Water Districts—that rely on water from the Delta-Mendota Canal. SLDMWA General Manager Jason Peltier, who has been immersed in CVP issues for decades, summarizes the challenges and solutions moving forward for his member agencies. “If we can shift the CVP back to being an effective project again, we can build a future for central California that everyone can be proud of and that will work to the maximum benefit of all interests.”
While the CVP’s problems can seem insurmountable, its water managers embody a can-do spirit and a path forward based on science, collaboration, and innovation.
Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@waterstrategies.com.