Ag summit addresses water issue, future
Led by U.S. Rep. and honorary chairman Kevin McCarthy, Bakersfield College was host to the first annual Kern County Agriculture Summit that took place in the Gil Bishop Gymnasium Oct.
“Since we’re in Kern County, why haven’t we done this before,” McCarthy asked of host and Bakersfield College president Sonya Christian when she first initially proposed the idea of an agriculture summit to him. Thanking those in attendance, which ranged from farmers and growers to students and educators, McCarthy said “The first time is always the hardest.”
The all-day summit, which began at 8 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., was broken up into five separate sessions in which a panel of guest speakers took the time to discuss California agriculture, its trends and difficulties, as well as its future. Special guest speakers included California Farm Bureau president Paul Wenger and California State Senator Jean Fuller, with the top sponsors of the event being Bolthouse, Paramount and Grimmway Farms.
Keynote speaker, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, emphasized that California remains number one in agriculture. From furnishing vegetables to producing wine, “[California] is increasingly a very important and reliable part of the global food chain,” she said.
Still, Ross discussed one of the challenges California faces today—water.
According to Ross, a plan that would help take actions to improve resiliency began last year, long before there was a drought. That plan was the California Water Action Plan. At the time of its introduction, the plan had been well received due to the fact that it reflected the importance of storage. Extensive outreach and workshops were put together as the plan progressed. Among many other things, the plan would attempt to improve the operational efficiency of water projects; it was about securing stable funding and investments in water.
“It was, very importantly, about making sure that all of our communities and all of our citizens have access to clean, safe drinking water,” Ross said. “We still have communities that pay for water but cannot drink it.”
While working on that plan, Ross and others were forced to deal with the reality of a drought, so the plan was not released until late January of this year.
Ross said that one of the most efficient storage systems is the Sierra snowpack, but not having that snowpack has resulted in some harm. An emergency legislation, according to Ross, helped make “400 million dollars available to local irrigation districts and innovative regional water management plans for projects that would help them improve their water use efficiency.” Another 800 million dollars were re-purposed to accelerate water recycle projects and the State Water Resources Control Board passed legislation and regulations. The California Department of Food and Agriculture was also asked to put together a 10 million dollar program to help improve water use efficiency.
“We can have the best soil in the world. We could be growing the best climate in the world. We still need infrastructure,” Ross said. “We have workforce development challenges and we need water. We need the ability to capture water, store water and move water to places of need throughout the year.”
U.S. Congressman David Valadao, who spoke in the second session of the summit along three other panelists, said that one of the things Washington faces is the solution.
“When you talk about the solution, there’s a lot of misinformation,” Valadao said, also informing those in attendance his goal at the summit was to speak about legislations he has introduced.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, or H.R. 3964, is, according to Valadao, a comprehensive bill that attempts to address issues California faces today in regards to water. “They say ‘Water is for fighting and whiskey is for drinking,’” Valadao said. “There is a lot of fighting for water because it is such a limited resource.”
Valadao brought up issues such as the Big Delta and San Joaquin River settlement, ensuring he will continue to fight and negotiate to get the bill to go forward. “All of us in the valley have agreed that there is one piece of legislation that will actually help address all the issues around the valley,” Valadao said, “because it addresses all different parts of what’s going on. Where we are today is making sure that we continue to fight, continue to negotiate.”
In attendance was John Stovall, water attorney, who found the progress of congressman Valadao’s bill and the fact that there may soon be a conclusion to that bill the most interesting aspect of the summit.
“[It] will be a tremendous help for agriculture in Kern County because it would free up a lot of water that would help farmers and farm workers,” Stovall said. “As far as agriculture is concerned, water, I think, is the biggest issue.”