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California’s Drought: We’re All in This Together

As California endures its fourth straight year of severe drought, anxiety about our water supply intensifies. The members of the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) – a forum for dialogue among agricultural, environmental, and governmental leaders—ask our fellow Californians to adopt a fresh perspective.

Media coverage about the current California drought has been extensive. Unfortunately, it has often oversimplified the realities of the California water system. Recent headlines have been fraught with finger-pointing across sectors about who’s to blame for our state water crisis. The resulting polarization of urban, agricultural, and environmental interests tends to drive these groups to their respective corners, where we are each encouraged to commiserate and launch counter attacks, rather than find common ground and collaborate on solutions in service of the greater public interest.

As representatives of agricultural, environmental, and government interests, the members of CRAE call for a different response. After much candid discussion, we have come to realize three things that we have not been hearing:

  1. Blame is not a productive response;
  2. We are all part of an interdependent system, experiencing this problem together; and
  3. To move toward solutions, we must talk with and not at each other, and be willing to work collaboratively.

From this unified place, we urge all Californians to see the water crisis as our shared problem. When it doesn’t rain or snow, there are devastating consequences for agriculture, fish and wildlife, and the economy.  In the current drought, actions have already been taken on all fronts. Let’s shift our focus from debate and vilification toward dialogue and developing the cooperative and innovative solutions necessary to ensure the long-term viability of California’s communities, agriculture, environment, and water supply.

As we navigate this drought, we must also recognize that water supply problems are likely to become more common in California. Shifting climate patterns, a growing population, and degraded ecosystems, all contribute to an increasingly challenging future.

Achieving long-term drought resilience that will help us better cope with the future droughts we know will come requires acknowledging a few key truths: 

  1. California’s unique climate and geography make it home to plants and animals that exist nowhere else on earth, and also make it possible to grow many crops that do not grow well in other parts of the country.
  2. A healthy environment is essential to a healthy economy—and to the quality of life for all Californians.
  3. Farms and ranches rely on the environment—including land and water—to produce food and fiber.
  4. Working lands can, and often do, provide important public benefits such as wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge, flood risk management, and beauty.
  5. Sustainable water management can only occur when we reduce conflicts between our human and ecological systems and identify opportunities to help both to thrive.

Although we may ultimately have less water than we are accustomed to, we can better address all of California’s water needs if we work together using our full toolkit of water management practices with a focus on developing solutions that deliver multiple benefits.

Examples of collaborative solutions exist in California and beyond. These include the “One Water, One Watershed” plan, which fosters long-term collaboration among diverse stakeholders in the Santa Ana Watershed, and the Nigiri Project at Knaggs Ranch, which is managed for the multiple benefits of rice production, habitat for native fish and waterfowl, and flood risk management.  We can learn from countries as far away as Australia or Israel or our neighboring states of Colorado and New Mexico, where leaders have struggled with similar crises and found win-win solutions for cities, agriculture, and the environment.

By focusing on how we might work together rather than who’s to blame, we can all come to the table and find solutions for better stewarding our water supply. We are all affected and we must all contribute.  We are all in this together.

This statement was produced and is supported by the undersigned members of the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE):

  • Agricultural Council of California
  • Almond Board of California
  • American Farmland Trust
  • Audubon California
  • California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
  • California Climate & Agriculture Network
  • California Fresh Fruit Association
  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Markon Cooperative
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Sacramento San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
  • San Joaquin Resource Conservation District
  • Sustainable Conservation
  • Corny Gallagher, SVP, Food, Ag, and Wine Executive, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Douglas McGehee, SVP Senior Credit Products Officer, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Holly King, King-Gardiner Farms, LLC
  • Paul Martin, Martin Family Ranch
  • Richard Rominger, Rominger Brothers Farms
  • Robert J. Gore, Silent Partner Strategies

Special thanks to CRAE’s institutional members for their participation in the development of this statement:

  • California Department of Conservation
  • California Department of Food and Agriculture
  • University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • University of California at Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Science
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • State Water Resources Control Board

Since 2004, the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) has served as a forum for agricultural, environmental, and government leaders to resolve conflict, find common ground, and work together to support agriculture and improve environmental outcomes. Convened by Ag Innovations, the group has provided policy insight on many key issues in the state. Visit www.aginnovations.org/crae for more information.