Water talk

Local pols speak at ag symposium

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (left) and state Sen. Jim Nielsen get ready to address an audience at the Sierra Nevada Big Room on water issues.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (left) and state Sen. Jim Nielsen get ready to address an audience at the Sierra Nevada Big Room on water issues.

PHOTO by tom gascoyne

Discussion of the ongoing drought and what to do about it was a big part of a symposium held Monday (April 14) at the Sierra Nevada Big Room. The North State Agriculture Summit speakers included Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) and state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), both of whom strongly endorsed the building of the Sites Reservoir near the Colusa County town of Maxwell, about 20 miles south of Willows.

Nielsen and LaMalfa stressed that water use and conservation is a statewide issue and that all parties have to work together. Some in the audience, including Barbara Vlamis and Jim Brobeck of the water watchdog group AquAlliance, said the places of water origin deserve first water rights and shipping North State water south to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley to irrigate permanent rather than annual crops is not the way to go. They also questioned the need and purpose of a new reservoir.

Nielsen and LaMalfa spoke for about five minutes each, before the meeting was turned over to a panel of those involved in agriculture education who mostly spoke about how to get young people interested in farming.

Nielsen began by stating the obvious: The water situation is one of the top issues in California right now.

“It hasn’t been for a number of years much on our minds,” he said. “But the drought has persisted and, by the way, this is sure not our first. I’ve farmed through three different drought periods and one was very severe in the late ’70s.”

He said this would not be the state’s last drought and that those involved in decision-making “need to have wisdom and foresight and that is something kind of lacking now.

“The critical problem I have seen over the years is there is less ability to be visionary about the future of water in California,” he said.

Both he and LaMalfa are “adamant” about surface storage, he said. Limiting concerns to environmental issues such as saving the Bay Delta is too narrow.

LaMalfa praised Nielsen for his efforts to improve the state’s water condition.

“Jim was a loud and knowledgeable voice on these issues to help protect Northern California water rights and steer some of the legislation,” he said.

“We are blessed the good lord decided to give us a little bit of extra rain here in the last few weeks,” he added. “It kind of took some of the edge off it here and some of Butte County’s water supplies are going to be a lot better off than what we were seeing there for a while.”

LaMalfa pushed for the Sites Reservoir, noting it was a bipartisan effort. Earlier this year he introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), that would fund the project, which has an estimated construction cost of between $2.3 billion and $3.9 billion.

LaMalfa mentioned the town of Montague in Siskiyou County, which draws its water from nearby Lake Shastina, which is in danger of running dry.

“If nobody helps them get through this, they might run out [of water] in July or August,” he said. “Can you imagine a municipality running out of water like that? It’s going to take all of us cooperating and working across the board.”

Questions from the audience were scheduled for the end of the symposium but time ran short. Vlamis, executive director of AquAlliance, asked what LaMalfa and Nielsen were doing to protect local water interests.

“How important is it to you to have agriculture anywhere supported?” she asked. “Or is it more important to not mine the water in this region and protect agriculture and the economy in the communities here?

“Area of origin is a cornerstone, a foundation of any of the water policy,” LaMalfa assured her. “I know I can speak for Jim on that.”

Brobeck said he felt Neilsen and LaMalfa were relying on emotions to get what they want.

“They are using this drought to exacerbate the fear factor and to justify Sites,” he said.