SWRCB Curtails Water Diversion within Russian River and Scott River Watersheds
Reporting on two proclamations issued by Governor Newsom declaring drought emergencies in 41 California counties, Legislative Bulletin previously noted that the proclamations direct the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to “consider emergency regulations to curtail water diversions when water is not available at water right holders’ priority of right or to protect releases of stored water,” much as it had throughout 2014-2017 during the prior drought.
Now those curtailment orders have begun to issue. On May 26, the SWRCB gave notice of drought curtailment orders to all post-1914 appropriative water rights holders on the Upper Russian River Watershed – 930 water rights holders in all. Six days later, the SWRCB issued notices of water unavailability to 158 water rights holders in the Scott River Watershed.
Tomorrow, the SWCRB will consider a Draft Resolution and Emergency Regulation for curtailments of pre-1914 and riparian water rights in the Russian River Watershed. According to the SWRCB, the Emergency Regulation is needed for the “(1) preservation of supplies and flows necessary for minimum human health and safety needs; (2) preserving storage in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma to the extent possible; and (3) public trust needs for minimum flows for migration of state- and federally-listed anadromous fish.” All other water uses – including agricultural water uses – would be declared “waste and unreasonable use” under the Emergency Regulation.
The regulation would partly tie curtailments to storage levels of water in Lake Mendocino. For instance, curtailments orders could issue if Lake Mendocino’s water volume falls below 29,315 acre-feet before July 1. As of June 4, only 34,618 acre-feet of water were present in the Lake.
CCA submitted comments last Wednesday urging the SWRCB not to broadly designate valid water uses as “waste and unreasonable use,” and to instead administer curtailments according to California’s water rights priority system. Additionally, CCA is seeking relief from unnecessary reporting requirements in the Emergency Regulation requiring water rights holders to certify their compliance with curtailment orders. CCA will continue to keep you apprised of any developments in response to California’s severe drought emergency.
EPA Will Re-Define “WOTUS,” Roll Back Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule
Last week, Legislative Bulletin reported that the Biden Administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to roll back four reforms to the federal Endangered Species Act secured during the Trump Administration. On Wednesday, cattle ranchers and beef producers got more unwelcome news from the Biden Administration: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its intention to re-define “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) for purposes of implementing the federal Clean Water Act.
In 2015, the Obama Administration finalized a controversial WOTUS Rule. CCA strongly opposed the rule, which vastly expanded the jurisdiction of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers and, consequently, expanded the regulatory burdens upon cattle ranchers and other landowners. The 2015 Rule authorized the Corps’ exercise of jurisdiction over remote waters that had no impact on downstream water quality and even encompassed some often-dry land features. CCA sued the EPA and Corps to prevent implementation of the rule.
In 2020, the Trump Administration finalized a rule repealing the 2015 WOTUS Rule, and replaced it with the far-more-circumscribed Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed remote streams and wetlands from the agencies’ Clean Water Act permitting authority. Both moves were strongly supported by CCA and the nation’s cattlemen.
In Wednesday’s announcement, the EPA alleged that 333 projects which would have required Clean Water Act permitting under the 2015 WOTUS Rule have been approved without such permitting under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, and that “this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation.” The announcement does suggest that the EPA and Corps will prioritize “Reflecting the experience of and input received from landowners [and] the agricultural community that fuels and feeds the world” as they work to revise the definition of WOTUS.
CCA will once again engage with the EPA and Corps to safeguard the property rights of California’s cattle producers, and we will keep you informed as details – including a formal proposed rule – emerge.
2020 Water Use Reports Due July 1 for Many Diverters; Water Board Identifies Diverters Out of Compliance with Measurement and Reporting Requirements
Water rights holders required to file Statements of Diversion and Use (e.g., those with pre-1914 and riparian rights) must file their 2020 Statements no later than July 1 on the State Water Resources Control Board’s website. The reports must be made electronically using the Water Board’s electronic Water Rights Information Management System Report Management System (eWRIMS RMS). Failure to file water reports by the deadline may subject diverters to fines up to $500 per day.
The Water Board has developed a series of technical videos to help guide diverters through the process of reporting their annual diversion and use of water. If you experience any difficulty filing your report, you can view these informational videos here.
While pre-1914 and riparian right-holders have until July 1 to file their reports, those diverting under appropriative water rights (certificates, registrations, permits and licenses) were required to file their annual water diversion and use reports by April 1. If you have an appropriative water right and have not yet filed for 2020 (or prior years), file immediately or contact the CCA office for assistance to limit or avoid hefty fines the Water Board may impose for failure to timely file.
While the Water Board has not yet issued a list of delinquent filers for 2020 as it has in previous years, the Division of Water Rights has compiled a list of diverters subject to measurement regulations who it believes have not registered a measuring device and/or have not submitted any valid measurement datafiles. If your water right appears on this list, CCA encourages you to remedy any measurement or reporting deficiencies by contacting that Division of Water Rights at DWR-Measurement@waterboards.ca.gov.
UPDATED: CCA Pushes for Congress to Act on Industry Concerns
On June 1, CCA affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) sent a letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate and House Agriculture Committees notifying legislators of “the challenges currently facing our industry and the overall beef supply chain.” CCA is one of the 37 affiliate cattle groups signed on to the letter that outlines the following five industry priorities:
- Increasing Transparency in the Cattle Markets;
- Expanding Beef Processing Capacity;
- Supporting Labor Solutions to Strengthen the Cattle and Beef Supply Chain;
- Supporting Industry Efforts to Reform “Product of the USA” Generic Labeling; and
- Ensuring Proper Oversight of Cattle Market Participants.
In the two weeks since that letter was issued, significant developments have occurred relating to a number of those priority areas.
On Tuesday, a group of 52 bipartisan lawmakers led by Representatives Mike Guest (R-MS) and Darren Soto (D-FL) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that the Department of Justice complete its investigation into alleged anticompetitive practices of the meatpacking sector and provide a status update to Congress in an effort to ensure that beef “producers operate in transparent markets.”
Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will invest $4 billion to strengthen U.S. food systems as part of the Biden Administration’s “Build Back Better” initiative. In a separate statement issued Friday, USDA clarified how this initiative will expand beef processing capacity and strengthen the beef supply chain, stating that “these investments will include efforts to address the shortage of small meat processing facilities across the country as well as the necessary local and regional food system infrastructure needed to support them.”
Finally, on Thursday, CCA affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) filed a petition with USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service “to eliminate the use of ‘Product of the USA’ (POTUSA) and other broad U.S. origin labeling claims for beef products that are potentially misleading to consumers.”
CCA will continue to keep you informed as the cattle industry, Congress and federal regulators take action to address industry concerns.
NRCS California Offering $22 Million Through Conservation Incentive Contracts Pilot Program
On Thursday, the California state office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that it is offering $22,774,000 in funding through Conservation Inventive Contracts, a new option available through the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
According to NRCS, “California is one of only four states in the nation to pilot this important program to help agricultural producers, including Tribes, alleviate the immediate impacts of drought and other natural resource challenges on working lands.” Practices eligible for funding under these five-year contracts include “forest management plans, tree/shrub establishment, brush management, prescribed grazing, pasture and hay planting, wildlife habitat, livestock watering systems, and cover crops.’
NRCS will accept applications for this targeted funding through July 12. You can apply for Conservation Incentive Contracts through your local NRCS office (which you can find here) or you can download an application here.
USDA Announces Intent to Strengthen Enforcement of Packers and Stockyards Act
On Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its intent to initiate rulemakings to “support enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards (P&S) Act, the 100-year old law that was originally designed to protect…cattle ranchers from unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive practices in the meat markets.”
Most relevant to cattle producers, USDA announced its intent “to propose a new rule that will provide greater clarity to strengthen enforcement of unfair and deceptive practices, undue preferences, and unjust prejudices” under Section 202 of the P&S Act. USDA will also “re-propose a rule to clarify that parties do not need to demonstrate harm to competition in order to bring an action under” subsections 202(a) and 202(b) of the P&S Act.
According to USDA, the latter proposal would “supplement” the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule issued by the Trump Administration in December of 2020. That rule was paused January 20 by the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Freeze Memorandum, but, according to CCA affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), “the 2008 Farm Bill requires the Secretary to promulgate regulations establishing criteria the Secretary will consider in determining whether an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage has occurred in violation of the P&S Act. USDA is statutorily obligated to publish this rule in some form or fashion, but we do not yet know whether this effort will more closely resemble the 2020 Trump Rule or the 2010 Obama Proposed Rule.”
USDA has not yet released any proposed rules or specific language to further these intentions. CCA will continue to keep you apprised of developments regarding enforcement of the Packers & Stockyards Act and will work with NCBA to engage with USDA on these revisions.
Share Your Perspective! Solar on California Working Lands: The Pros and Cons
A team of researchers at Stanford University is interviewing farmers and ranchers in the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley about opportunities and concerns surrounding working lands solar production. The voices of producers are essential to this discussion, yet often do not get as much attention in solar planning as they should. We are interested in understanding what solar production and income would mean for agricultural operations, what types of solar contracts are attractive, and long-term planning considerations. If you are an agricultural landowner in the Bay Area or San Joaquin Valley and are willing to participate in this study, please email Nicole Buckley Biggs (firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule a time to share your thoughts. Your contribution to this work is important and will be kept confidential.
Have Your Livestock Suffered from Wildfire and Smoke?
UC Davis in collaboration with Oregon State University developed a survey to gauge the impact of the 2020 wildfires on grazing livestock health and production. The objective of this survey is to gather information to better understand to what extent cattle, sheep and goats have been impacted by direct exposure to wildfires or by indirect exposure to smoke inhalation during the fire season. Gaining this knowledge will enable us to better anticipate impacts of wildfires on livestock in the future and prepare outreach materials that help increase resilience to these disasters.
“We continue to see fires across the West each year impacting livestock grazing operations and causing direct harm and potentially more widespread impacts from smoke filled skies,” states Dr. Gaby Maier, Beef Cattle Herd Health & Production Assistant Specialist in Cooperative Extension, UC Davis. “Even if you do not think your livestock were impacted by wildfires in 2020, we would also like to hear from you.”
The survey should take about 3 to 5 minutes to complete. Your participation in this survey is completely voluntary, and your responses will be kept anonymous. All questions are related to the 2020 wildfire season between May and December 2020. Results will be reported through different outlets including the California Cattleman Magazine.
Earlier this year the research team asked commercial cattle producers in Butte County about the impacts from wildfires, to gauge the need for this larger survey. “In this preliminary survey we heard from ranchers about direct impacts from fire on rangelands such as cattle death loss and burns,” states Tracy Schohr, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor in Butte, Plumas and Sierra Counties, University of California Cooperative Extension. “In addition, the majority of ranchers reported wildfire smoke increased respiratory infections, reduced weight gain, and lowered conception rates.”
All livestock producers, large and small, in the Western States are encouraged to complete the quick survey. Take the survey here.