OPINION – To live and farm in the Central Valley for three generations means water is a constant topic of conversation around the dinner table. While water quantity and water quality are serious and often daunting problems, I see reason for hope.
Important work is already underway on my family dairy farm and across the Valley to protect our drinking water. We are taking the time to celebrate the small victories but are ready to get back to work with the state and other local interests to keep up the momentum.
Highlighting our current efforts is a new partnership with the California Department of Water Resources to provide immediate protection to drinking water wells in our district through the establishment of a new “LandFlex” program. The $25 million in grants from the state’s top water management agency is allowing local communities like mine to quickly reduce groundwater demand and transition to sustainable groundwater use, complementing and expanding the work we’ve already started.
Through creative thinking and partnerships between state leaders and local dairy farmers, LandFlex is helping us improve water quality and increase supplies to meet our region’s needs while sustaining our local agricultural economic engines at the same time. I don’t have to choose between having enough clean water for my family and community and having enough water to support my farm now and into the future – I can do both.
And this partnership is helping us immediately. The effects of this program—significant improvements to groundwater quality and quantity—will be felt across the more than 125,000 acres of family farms my local water management agency supports and elsewhere throughout the Valley starting this year.
I am one of the nearly 35,000 households served by vulnerable domestic wells that will receive relief through this program. As estimated by the State Water Resources Control Board, about one million domestic wells across the Central Valley are vulnerable to going dry. This program is a great start, but protection of water quality for all communities must be the goal.
LandFlex is helping us improve water quality and increase supplies to meet our region’s needs while sustaining our local agricultural economic engines at the same time.
The creation and success of this program is a testament to the collaboration between state and local water management agencies, important agricultural producers and family dairy farms like mine who are committed to providing clean water to our families and neighbors without sacrificing our livelihoods.
While this program will make a measurable difference in improving water quality across the Valley, there is still a lot of work to do. And we can’t do it alone.
The process to stand up this program should serve as a foundational framework for continued efforts to clean up our water in ways that recognize the magnitude and urgency of the problem.
With commitment and leadership from our local and state representatives, decision-makers and our partners across the agricultural industry and beyond, we can ensure protecting our water supplies remains a top priority and it actually gets done.
We see LandFlex as just the beginning of what’s possible if we all work together to sustain the health and viability of our communities by improving our water quality. Now that we know what to do, it’s time to start doing it.
The agricultural community has shown that we are willing and effective partners in addressing our water quality issues. We’ve stepped up for our communities and are now asking state and local leaders and regulators to do the same.
Tom Barcellos is the owner of Barcellos Farms, a third-generation family dairy farm in Tipton and the president of the Lower Tule River Irrigation District, which recently received a $7.7 million grant as part of the LandFlex program.