This past week the Association testified before the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to oppose ongoing fee increases for water quality regulations. Water Quality Fees went up across the board, including the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) and Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) fees. Association President/CEO Roger A. Isom testified at the hearing and focused on the WDR fees, which had one of the largest increases at 8.5%, which follows a 65% increase in the previous 5 years. Isom stated “this is not sustainable. It must stop now! While we recognize that regulating water quality is expensive and necessary, it does not justify these fee increases. The WDR fees are so out of line, they are 10 to 15 times all other regulatory fees combined! How do you explain that?” The SWRCB has admitted their fees are high, but put the blame on the State legislature, stating the legislature made the agency 100% fee based. At the hearing the SWRCB admitted 40% of the fee went to programs that were not ag discharge related. Isom responded “the problems are twofold. Yes, the State’s General Fund should pick up the statewide portion of the costs and not put those on ag stakeholders, but the Board needs to review the staff and the efficiencies of their work. We are going to pursue every angle we can on this issue and have already initiated discussions with the legislature.“ Other commenters echoed Isom’s comments including Bruce Houdesheldt, from the Sacramento Valley Water Quality Coalition.
NEWS & ISSUES
This week, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resolved longstanding litigation covering over 1,000 pesticide products, allowing EPA to fulfill its obligations to protect endangered species while conducting reviews and approvals of pesticides in a safe and protective manner. In 2011, the Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network (Plaintiffs) filed a complaint in Federal Court in California against EPA alleging that it was violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it registered or reevaluated the registration of 382 pesticide active ingredients, which was ultimately reduced to 35 active ingredients covering over 1,000 pesticide products containing one or more of these active ingredients. This became known as the “megasuit” because of the number of pesticides it covered. The settlement entered by the Court this week resolves all outstanding claims.
“This agreement is a win-win-win to protect endangered species, ensure the availability of pesticides needed to grow food across America, and save considerable time and taxpayer expenses required to further litigate this case,” said Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff.
In 2022, EPA issued its ESA Workplan, Balancing Wildlife Protection and Responsible Pesticide Use: How EPA’s Pesticide Program Will Meet its Endangered Species Act Obligations, which describes how EPA will address the challenge of protecting ESA-listed species from pesticides. This settlement is consistent with EPA’s ongoing efforts to develop a multichemical, multispecies approach to meeting its ESA obligations under the workplan. EPA’s traditional chemical-by-chemical, species-by-species approach to meeting these obligations has been slow and costly, with ESA work on each pesticide typically taking many years to complete. As a result, EPA has completed its ESA obligations for less than 5% of its actions, creating legal vulnerabilities, the potential for adverse impacts to listed species, and uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users that use many pesticides. Resolving the remaining claims in this lawsuit and establishing a path forward under the settlement is a significant step to overcoming these challenges.
This agreement and the prior partial settlement include obligations for EPA as follows:
- Development of mitigation measures for listed species that are particularly vulnerable to exposures from pesticides and determine how to apply these mitigations to future pesticide actions, as well as whether this Vulnerable Species Pilot should be expanded to more species.
- Development and implementation of an Herbicide Strategy (draft released for public comment), a Rodenticide Strategy, Insecticide Strategy, and Fungicide strategy (the latter three are still under development) which will identify mitigation measures for entire classes of pesticides to address their potential impacts to hundreds of ESA-listed species
- Completion of the ESA work for eight organophosphates and four rodenticides;
- Hosting of a workshop for stakeholders to explore how to offset pesticide impacts on ESA-listed species in situations where eliminating or modifying pesticide use may not be feasible, and how EPA could incorporate those offsets into its process for registering or reregistering pesticides. Offsets could include restoring wetland habitat or funding breeding programs for affected species.
We will have to see how this plays out, because “the devil is in the details.” What are the mitigation measures and how are the pilot projects impacting farming operations are couple of questions that immediately rise to the top when reviewing EPA’s announcement.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has awarded $187 million to 32 groundwater subbasins through the Sustainable Groundwater Management (SGM) Grant Program. The funding will support 103 individual projects that enhance groundwater monitoring, water use efficiency, groundwater recharge, recycled water and water quality. “This water year has proved the importance of managing our groundwater to capture and store as much water as possible in our local communities to prepare for future weather extremes, while supporting the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” said DWR Sustainable Groundwater Management Deputy Director Paul Gosselin. “We look forward to working with our local partners to make the necessary investments to better manage, capture and store groundwater for future generations.” California is home to 515 groundwater basins, a critical component of the state’s water supply, and is heavily relied upon by communities, agriculture and the environment, especially during dry and drought years. During the 2023 Water Year, DWR has determined an estimated 3.8 million acre-feet of water has been recharged; a clearer picture of the 2023 water year’s groundwater conditions will emerge after April 1, 2024, when annual reports are due from the local groundwater sustainability agencies to the State. The grant awards are distributed throughout the State, but some regions that will benefit from this funding include:
- In Merced County, the Merced Irrigation-Urban Groundwater Sustainability Agency will receive $3.4 million to execute two multi-benefit projects that fallow more than 1,300 acres of cropland, resulting in increased groundwater recharge, habitat enhancement and reduced flood risk for nearby underrepresented communities.
- In San Benito County, San Benito County Water District will receive $11.5 million to expand and update the water treatment plant and construct five aquifer storage and recovery wells, as well as a conveyance pipeline for water. The project will help provide a resilient water supply for nearby underrepresented communities.
- In Stanislaus County, Oakdale Irrigation District will receive $14.3 million to expand an existing recharge facility and increase storage by 600 percent. The project will benefit underrepresented communities in the area.
- In Sutter County, Sutter County Development Services will receive $8.5 million for improved data collection and reporting while also financing a pilot program to support farmers with irrigation system upgrades and underrepresented communities.
These awards mark the second solicitation offered through the SGM Grant Program. In 2022, the program awarded $150 million during the first solicitation to 20 agencies responsible for managing critically over drafted groundwater basins throughout the state. Demand for groundwater project funding has been high with the SGM Grant Program receiving nearly $800 million in requests.
In a special unprecedented presentation, Association President/CEO Roger Isom testified before the CalOSHA Standards Board on their proposed new standard “Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Places of Employment.” The presentation occurred last week during the CalOSHA Standards Board regular Board Meeting, but the presentation by the Association was the only item on the agenda and the Board allowed Isom 15 minutes to present the topic. As a reminder the proposed standard is triggered when indoor paces of employment hit 82 °F, and requires engineering controls to bring indoor temperatures to below 87 °F. This would apply to any cotton gin, nut huller or processor and any farm warehouse or shop building. The requirement to cool the buildings to below 87 °F is the primary issue and presents the biggest and most expensive challenge to meeting such a low target temperature. Isom provided cost estimates from $1 million for a single building to $9.5 million for multiple buildings to install air conditioning, but also stated it would present operational issues with cotton gins and almond hullers as those operations require large volumes of air to either move products from point A to point B, or is used to pull hulls, shells, and dust from the conveyance of products. The proposed regulation states this is only required unless it is not feasible, but “feasible” is not defined. The lack of a definition is what causes the most concern as it leaves it up to enforcement discretion and subjectivity. The Association emphasized the need to define “feasible” in the context of this regulation. No other presentation was provided and we will now have to wait and see what CalOSHA does with the proposed regulation in response.
This past week the leadership of both the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association (CCGGA) and Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) went to Sacramento for three days of regulatory and legislative issues. The Associations’ Executive leadership and staff met with legislative and regulatory representatives on a multitude of critical issues including water rights legislation, FARMER funding, property and stock throughput insurance, the proposed indoor heat illness regulation, water quality fees, air quality legislation for the SJV, funding of water projects for medium and high priority area GSAs, port issues, and several other important topics. The entourage met with legislators including Assemblyman David Alvarez (80th), Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (4th), Assemblyman Josh Lowenthal (69th), Assemblyman Juan Carrillo (39th), Assemblyman Vince Fong (32nd), Assemblyman James Gallagher ( 3rd), Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria (27th), Assemblyman Greg Wallis (47th), Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner (77th), and the staff of Assemblyman Rick Chavez Zbur, and Senator Lena Gonzalez (33rd). The group also met with Agency staff from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) Director Katie Hagen, State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and State Water Resources Control Board Member Dorene D’Adamo. CCGGA was represented by Chairman Matt Toste, First Vice Chair Gary Martin, Second Vice Chair Adriane Carbonel and Secretary/Treasurer Jake Cauzza. WAPA was represented by First Vice Chair Pat Andersen, Past Chairman Michael Kelley and Board Member John Rodriguez. Association staff included President/CEO Roger Isom, Assistant Vice President Priscilla Rodriguez and Director of Technical Services Christopher McGlothlin.
Southern California Edison has proposed a 45% rate increase over already approved 2024 rates, which would generate another $3.9 billion in revenue for SCE. This follows the proposed 46% increase in rates by PG&E by 2026. With the state’s push to electrify everything how can businesses survive in this state? The association will be working with the Ag Energy Consumers Association (AECA) on both of these important general rate cases (GRCs). Association President/CEO Roger Isom is the President of the Board of AECA and Association Assistant Vice President Priscilla Rodriguez also sits on the AECA Board of Directors, so this will be a priority!
|SCE 2025 GRC|
|Revenue Requirement||$ increase||Total $ increase over 2024 rates||% increase over 2024 rates|
This week, Association President/CEO Roger A. Isom was named President of the Ag One Foundation at California State University, Fresno. In 1979, several faculty, alumni and friends of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State had a million-dollar idea — to start a foundation that would benefit, promote and support the college and its programs. The supporters set out to raise $1 million in permanent funds. Today, the Ag One Foundation has raised more than $27 million in endowed funds which are invested with the Fresno State Foundation. Over the years, donors, board members and volunteers have made it possible to award some 5,000 students with over $8.5 million in scholarships and program support. For the 2022-23 academic year, Ag One will provide more than $850,000 to deserving students and programs. In response to the appointment Isom stated, “This is truly an honor and a privilege to be associated with such a dedicated board and team helping students in JCAST achieve their dreams and help agriculture remain viable for the next generations”. This marks Isom’s 6th year on the Ag One Foundation’s Board of Directors. Joining Isom as officers will be Vice President: Nick Biscay, Stanislaus Farm Supply; Treasurer: Fendley Ragland, PGIM Real Estate Agricultural Investments and Secretary: Jason Baldwin, Panoche Creek Packing.
Over the last two days, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Board heard the final update to staff’s Advanced Clean Fleet (ACF) regulation. CARB Staff presented the final draft version of the rule, which is set to require businesses that dispatch or own 50 or more vehicles, or have $50 million or more in receipts, to begin replacing and upgrading their fleets with Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV’s) starting in 2025. The Board heard from over 120 different commenters, and debated for more than two hours before motioning to approve the regulation. It was approved unanimously by the Board, but with some additional emphasis being placed on impacts to industry.
The Association’s Director of Technical Services, Chris McGlothlin, provided comments specifically identifying the current delays with utility interconnectivity. Speaking on years long delays to connect well pumps, farm shops, even major processing facilities, McGlothlin emphasized that the utility companies are not ready for the manufactured demand for system upgrades that this rule creates. Speaking after public comments were provided, several Board Members echoed those concerns in regard to interconnectivity, and directed staff to work with industry and various stakeholders to stay on top of direct needs on the infrastructure side. Stay tuned for more updates!
Today, the Bureau of Reclamation announced it is increasing Central Valley Project 2023 water supply allocations for irrigation water service and repayment contractors. Both north- and south-of-Delta contractors are increased to 100% from 80%. All other CVP water supply allocations remain the same as noted in the March 28 announcement. Current status of all CVP allocations are:
- Irrigation water service and repayment contractors north-of-Delta are allocated 100% of their contract supply.
- Municipal and industrial water service and repayment contractors north-of-Delta are allocated 100% of their contract supply.
- Sacramento River Settlement Contractors’ water supply is based upon settlement of claimed senior water rights. The 2023 water year is determined as non-critical, as defined in their Settlement Contracts, which allows for 100% of their contract supply.
- M&I water service and repayment contractors north-of-Delta who are serviced by Folsom Reservoir on the American River are allocated 100% of their contract supply.
- M&I water service and repayment contractors who are serviced directly from the Delta are allocated 100% of their contract supply.
- Irrigation water service and repayment contractors south-of-Delta are allocated 100% of their contract total.
- M&I water service and repayment contractors south-of-Delta are allocated 100% of their contract supply
- San Joaquin River Settlement Contractors and San Joaquin Exchange Contractors’ water supply is based upon settlement/exchange of claimed senior water rights. The 2023 water year is determined as non-critical, as defined in their contracts, which allows for 100% of their contract supply.
Eastside Water Contractors
- Eastside water service contractors (Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District and Stockton East Water District) are allocated 100% of their contract total.
- The 2023 water year is currently determined as non-critical, as defined in their contracts, which allows for 100% of contract supply for wildlife refuges (Level 2), both north- and south-of-Delta.
Friant Division Contractors
- Friant Division contractors’ water supply is delivered from Millerton Reservoir on the upper San Joaquin River via the Madera and Friant-Kern canals. The first 800,000 acre-feet of available water supply is considered Class 1; Class 2 is considered the next amount of available water supply up to 1.4 million acre-feet. Given the current hydrologic conditions, the Friant Division water supply allocation is 100% of Class 1 and 70% of Class 2 (from the initial 20% allocation).