Guest Editorial: Supervisors Micari, Townsend support Sen. Hurtado’s $300 million water funding request

EDITORS NOTE: This guest editorial was submitted by Tulare County Board Supervisor for District 1 Larry Micari, and Tulare County District Board Supervisor for District 5 Dennis Townsend. 

As the representatives of Tulare County’s first and fifth supervisorial districts, we write today to encourage you to strongly support Senator Melissa Hurtado’s $300 million Water Resiliency Funding request to the State of California.  

The extreme drought of 2012-2016 never ended here in Tulare County. Severe lack of water has ravaged our small, rural, agricultural communities for the last decade. The state’s failure to invest in its large surface water storage infrastructure over the last forty years has left us unable to store excess runoff during wetter months for use during the dry and hot summer months. Severe drought and lack of infrastructure have necessitated an over-reliance on groundwater pumping, and the resulting ground subsidence has damaged our main water conveyance system, the Friant-Kern Canal.  

Since its construction in 1951, the Friant-Kern Canal has lost roughly 60% of its delivery capacity due to subsidence. This means that every year nearly 300,000-acre feet of water cannot reach the terminus of the canal to service the 55 disadvantaged communities, and more than 1 million acres of farmland, that rely on its water supply. The most damaged section of the canal, located in what’s known as the “middle reach,” or southwestern Tulare County, between the cities of Lindsay and Delano, has sunk over 13 feet. The city of Lindsay (Lindsay) is a prime example of our dire situation here in Tulare County. 

Lindsay operates a hybrid groundwater/surface water utility system serviced by municipal wells and the Friant-Kern Canal. Lindsay’s current water allocation from the Friant-Kern Canal is estimated at 1-15% of their yearly average. Lindsay needs a minimum water allocation of 45% of their yearly average to maintain adequate water pressure within the system. Without this increased allocation, Lindsay will be forced to utilize a well contaminated with perchloride and nitrates to maintain adequate water pressure. The 13,000 residents of Lindsay would then need to ship-in potable water, along with separate water storage containers, for drinking and cooking.  

On May 13th the city received a conditional Public Health and Safety (PHS) allocation of 740-acre feet of water. The 30% increase they so desperately needed. However, this increase likely comes at the expense of agricultural water allocations within Tulare County. Lack of water and a crippled conveyance system means that one party’s water allocation increase, is another party’s reduction. As local farmers have their water allocations cut to the bone, they will turn to land fallowing, heard culling, and groundwater pumping to keep their permanent crops alive rather than lose their livelihood. A reduction in productive lands means less food in the marketplace and higher food prices for all. Excessive groundwater pumping will exacerbate the damage done to the Friant-Kern Canal, perpetuating a vicious cycle that damages the land, our agricultural and business sectors, and individuals and families.  Moreover, despite the conditional PHS allocation, Lindsay’s water security remains incredibly fragile. 

There are dozens of underserved communities whose water security is precarious. These communities are often ignored and overlooked by the state in the larger conversation regarding water infrastructure, conservation, and environmentalism. With 181 residences already being serviced by hauled water deliveries, and increased reports of dry wells coming through our Board of Supervisors office as we approach the summer months, Senator Hurtado’s $300 million Water Resiliency Funding request is crucial. The people of Tulare County cannot afford to have the repair of the Friant-Kern Canal interrupted under any circumstances. The economic viability of Tulare County, and the health and well-being of its people, depend on a secure water conveyance system.  

Senator Hurtado’s budget request would provide crucial capital for the repair of the Friant-Kern Canal here in Tulare County. At a time when our surface water allocations are being cut to just 15% of their yearly average, it is imperative that all water traveling through the Friant-Kern Canal reach its intended destination. You can make your voice heard by contacting your state representative and asking for their support for this funding request. 

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