Water Curtailments Continue as Drought Deepens
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) last week took two significant actions relating to water rights curtailments in response to the state’s historic drought conditions. First, as previewed in last week’s Legislative Bulletin, the SWRCB laid a framework for curtailing pre-1914 and riparian water rights on the Russian River Watershed to conserve water for human health and safety, state- and federally-listed fish, and storage in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma.
According to the SWRCB, approval of the emergency regulation means “approximately 2,400 water right holders could be ordered to stop diverting as early as July 5, when water availability is projected to worsen. That includes 1,600 water users in the Upper Russian River and up to 800 in the Lower Russian River.”
Second, the SWRCB issued Notices of Water Unavailability to all 4,300 water rights holders with post-1914 appropriative water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Watershed, requiring such right holders to cease diversion of water. According to the SWRCB, “projections indicate that water is also likely unavailable this summer for a subgroup of more senior pre-1914 appropriative and possibly riparian water right claims,” which may result in Delta Watershed curtailments similar to those approved last week for the Russian River Watershed.
Notices of Water Unavailability were previously issued for all post-1914 appropriative water rights holders on the Russian River Watershed and for approximately 158 water rights holders on the Scott River Watershed.
Importantly, the curtailment orders do not impact water already diverted to storage in stockponds and other reservoirs. During the prior drought, the SWRCB clarified that “The State Water Board’s curtailment of water rights does not limit the use of water previously stored in a pond or reservoir. Therefore, uses of previously stored water authorized by a permit, license, registration or certificate can continue.” On Friday, CCA confirmed with the Deputy Director for the SWRCB’s Division of Water Rights that diverters may continue to legally utilize water previously diverted to storage.
All diverters receiving notices of unavailability – even those allowed to continue using water diverted to storage – should complete the Water Unavailability Certification Form as directed in the notice of unavailability and should cease any further diversions of water.
Further curtailment orders are likely to issue this year. While CCA will seek to keep members informed about the SWRCB’s regulatory responses to the drought emergency, developments are likely to emerge quickly; for the most up-to-date information, visit the SWRCB’s Drought Information and Updates webpage, here.
Legislature Passes Fiscal Year 2021-22 State Budget
The California Legislature on Monday, June 14 approved a $264 billion state budget bill ahead of the state’s Constitutional deadline of June 15 at midnight.
The bill satisfies the Constitutional requirement, but it does not represent a final budget deal negotiated with the Newsom Administration. Rather, the budget bill passed last week largely tracks the two-house budget agreement previously reported in Legislative Bulletin.
Governor Newsom and legislators remain at odds over projected state revenues, increasing childcare wages, lowering the Medi-Cal age for undocumented immigrants and other matters. Lawmakers will continue to negotiate the budget, making amendments to the main budget bill via junior budget bills and implementing the budget via budget trailer bills (for instance, while the budget bill appropriates $1 billion “for a wildfire prevention and forest resilience package,” detailed allocations of that funding are “Contingent upon future legislation” in the form of trailer bills).
The State’s 2021-22 Fiscal Year begins July 1 (though lawmakers can continue to alter the budget after that date). CCA will continue to keep you apprised of significant budget developments as negotiations continue in Sacramento.
$4 Billion Available Through USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers Round II
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the resumption of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments in March, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that that program and others would be administered through the newly-establishment Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, which aims to provide COVID-19 relief more equitably to a broader range of agricultural producers.
In the months that have followed, USDA has provided nearly $6.8 billion in assistance to producers through the initiative – with CFAP accounting for most of those funds.
On Tuesday, USDA announced a second round of assistance programs which will be rolled out through the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative in the next 60 days. Of greatest interest to livestock producers, USDA will propose financial assistance for “Livestock…producers forced to euthanize animals during the pandemic.”
More information on Round II of the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative is available here. CCA will strive to keep members informed as individual programs under the initiative are announced.
USDA Announces Deadlines for CRP Signups
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will accept applications for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through July 23. Applications for USDA’s CRP Grasslands program will be open from July 12 through August 20.
According to USDA, the agency has “updated both signup options to provide greater incentives for producers and increase [CRP’s] conservation benefits, including reducing the impacts of climate change.”
CRP and CRP Grasslands are competitive application processes which provide awarded landowners annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes. According to USDA, “Through CRP, producers and landowners establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland.”
Producers can learn more about the CRP General Signup here, or about CRP Grasslands here. To enroll, producers should contact their local county FSA office; you can find contact information for your local FSA office here.
UCCE Piloting New Drought Decision Support Tool for Ranchers
Most ranchers in the West are well aware that we’re in the second year of another significant drought. As of June 15, nearly 89 percent of the West is in moderate to exceptional drought. California ranchers are coming off one of the driest rainy seasons in memory. But while many producers have already started implementing drought plans, others are still considering their options. Based on lessons learned during the 2012-2016 drought here on the West Coast, these decisions are difficult but critical to the long-term viability of our ranches.
To this end, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) livestock and natural resources advisors Grace Woodmansee (Siskiyou County, CA) and Dan Macon (Placer, Nevada, Sutter and Yuba Counties, CA) have created a Drought Strategies Decision Support Tool that will help producers walk through specific strategies to deal with on-the-ground conditions. This tool will guide ranchers through developing their forage outlook for the next 12 months. It will also help producers relate their reactive strategies (like weaning lambs early or selling breeding-age females) with ranch goals and proactive drought strategies. In addition, the tool is intended to help ranchers establish a critical date by which they will take action. The tool is linked to a series of simple spreadsheets (available here) to help producers analyze the costs and benefits of several key strategies (like feeding hay, weaning early, or selling livestock).
Woodmansee says the tool was developed based on her research into rancher strategies during the 2012-2016 drought. “We realized in talking producers who managed through that drought that reactive strategies (like supplemental feeding) are related to proactive strategies (like resting pastures to conserve forage). We hope ranchers will use this tool and provide us feedback on how we can make it even more useful!”
For more information, or to provide comments and feedback, contact Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or Macon at email@example.com.
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.
NRCS California Offering $22 Million Through Conservation Incentive Contracts Pilot Program
The California state office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has 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.
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.