Western Growers' Dennis Nuxoll and Matthew Allen Detail California Drought and Water Crisis

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Tue. October 12th, 2021
- by Anne Allen     

BAKERSFIELD, CA - Perhaps one of the most talked-about topics in California is the issue of water. The stark reality of today’s drought comes under the microscope in the next segment of our series discussing ag issues with Western Growers. The conversation waded through issues such as water availability, supply, and efficiency. As California looks to begin its new water year, both Dennis Nuxoll and Matthew Allen detailed what this means for growers.

Matthew Allen, Vice President of State Government Affairs, Western Growers“As of right now, we’re not forecasting a lot of water coming into the state, as it looks like it won’t be a wet year,” said Matthew, the Vice President of State Government Affairs, as we kicked off our talks. “This particularly concerns surface water, especially south of the Delta, and obviously this will up our reliance on groundwater.”

This reliance on groundwater is a front-and-center concern, as many growers are currently pulling out crops because they’re worried about if they will have enough water to sustain them to harvest.

Dennis Nuxoll, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs, Western Growers“My hope is the bipartisan infrastructure package that is waiting to pass the house will pass, as that bill includes $8 billion dollars for western water,” remarked Dennis, the association’s Vice President of Federal Government Affairs. “If that bill passes, we’ll have large sums of money available to repair and replace the existing infrastructure that might be crumbling. We’ll have money for more water-smart technology, water-smart conservation efforts, and we’ll have more money for the building of new storage systems.”

As the need to modernize our water infrastructure— especially in California—becomes crystal clear, both Dennis and Matthew commented that the only potential silver lining to the severity of the drought is that it can no longer be ignored—and it’s a conversation at the forefront of legislative concerns.

With drought and fire challenges in California, the need for better water infrastructure is critical as Western Growers’ Dennis Nuxoll and Matthew Allen discuss the potential affects come 2022

“It’s about creating options,” Matthew noted. “There are always going to be competing interests over water, and the beneficial use of where that water should go. But what’s the point of fighting over it if we don’t have any to fight over? So, we need to create options and pathways, and the more of those we have, the better our situation will be in the long haul.”

Prioritizing investments in water infrastructure is an absolute must, especially as we dive deeper into the state of groundwater management in California.

“A lot is happening in that space. There have been projects over the last several years about how best to conduct or implement a groundwater banking system,” Matthew continued. “We’re going to see varied impacts throughout the entire state, however, because groundwater and the level and impact of it varies pretty drastically across California.”

If the bipartisan infrastructure package bill passes the house, a potential $8 billion dollars will go toward western water services and repairs (photo taken in Big Bear Lake)

As surface water lessens, growers are more dependent on groundwater as a necessity, but this opens another can of worms. While facing the sustainability questions we covered in an earlier session, growers are also coming up against varying standards of usage across groundwater basins and how they’re managed.

“It’s figuring out how to proceed forward in the best way to make sure we are meeting what our requirements are on the groundwater side and meeting our contracts to get our produce over to the buyer—and all within a certain timeframe,” Matthew stated.

Prioritizing investments in water infrastructure is an absolute must, especially as we dive deeper into the state of groundwater management in California

Dennis agreed, adding that, “It’s so critical to think about the interaction between groundwater and surface water, and one of the reasons California has had such a crisis situation in groundwater is because we’ve been using the groundwater resource very aggressively to offset the lack of surface water.”

As California was one of the last Western states to regulate groundwater, you can see how the situation gets even stickier. Figuring out how to be more water smart will be the challenge we all face in the years to come, so stay tuned to AndNowUKnow as we continue to watch the situation as it unfolds.

Western Growers