Bob Gore has been working on behalf of Californians for decades–he began his career reporting for the LA Times, and went on to serve in a variety of state government roles including Press Secretary and Senior Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Gore currently advises clients of The Gualco Group on California policy, politics, and public affairs, including the California Association of Winegrape Growers, CAWG.
He was kind enough to offer his outlook on the various changing regulations that growers face, and what may happen next in Sacramento and beyond, as rules are implemented by local water organizations around the state.
Before diving in to this interview, readers should be advised that there are several regulations and organizations with acronyms. Here is a brief list to keep them straight:
- SGMA - Sustainable Groundwater Management Act - This law is meant to protect and recharge key groundwater basins. It is starting to slowly roll out, and over the next several decades will take hold across the state.
- GSA - Groundwater Sustainability Agency - These groups around the state are in charge of overseeing SGMA groundwater activity. Many of these are forming or are newly formed, and growers can get involved at the ground floor. Here is a map to find out which GSAs are near you.
- ILRP - Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program - Recently expanded program requiring growers to report nitrogen and water management practices. Details on those changes are on the Ceres Imaging blog.
- CV-SALTS - Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Solutions - A basin-organized effort to implement comprehensive salinity and nitrate management.
- For information on how aerial imaging can detect water stress in almonds, see this post.
Q. SGMA seems to overlap with a number of other regulatory programs like CV-SALTS, ILRP and others. Is that accurate?
BG: They all interact, especially in ag lands areas, where the rubber meets the road. The central administrative bodies for SGMA and influencing all that regulatory compliance will be the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs).
They have legal and regulatory authority for SGMA, but because they’re gathering data, because all the members are gathered in one place, there will be some regulatory compliance activities that will go through them.
For example with CV-SALTS...if growers can use GSA data to comply with CV-SALTS, then they’ll save money because they only have to gather the information once instead of twice.
Q. Will reporting requirements ever be consolidated so that it’s one set of reports, if not a single report?
BG: For CAWG, that’s one of my advocacy goals. In fact I testified this week in front of state water board when they had a briefing on the ag lands program. To remind them that the costs of compliance have to be actively managed and controlled that calif water code, there’s a section that says all compliance must be reasonable, practicable and directly related to the regulation. So, we have a law behind us.
It’s something we work aggressively toward, consolidating all these reporting requirements.
Karen Ross earlier this year in front of the Board of Food and Ag said growers face a historical burden because of all the regulation, SGMA, in-stream flow, and then there’s a number of others besides a labor shortage. It’s difficult to be a grower, especially with a high-value crop like wine grapes.
There’s a bill pending, AB-2166, California Farm Bill, by Assemblymember Anna Caballero.
I’ve been on the Working Group to craft the bill...it’s not perfect but we’re working on it.
One of the major parts of the bill would require the (California Department of Food and Agriculture) to form what would amount to a regulatory compliance group among all the regulators, and they would be required to coordinate compliance.
Regardless of the bill, ag orgs like CAWG, like Farm Bureau, like Western Growers, work together to educate the regulators who don’t farm, about the ramifications of their actions and the need to coordinate.
Q. What’s your view of regulators and the relationship with growers?
BG: Resource sustainability is what every grower strives for...turning the land over to the succeeding generation. They live there. They work there. What we strive for is to make sure regulators understand that and make the reporting requirements reasonable and financially feasible.
If growers don't turn a profit they do not exist. So the first requirement is growers have to be profitable. After that we work with compliance.
Our objective is to control and eliminate the nice to have and focus on reasonable regulation that achieves sustainability.
Q. Can you talk about some of the challenges of SGMA, in terms of regulating groundwater recharge?
BG: To really do recharge on a significant level you have to build an entire new irrigation district on top of the existing one because recharge basins have to be found, they have to be spread out checkerboard fashion, they have to be engineered, with new perc rates and associated items, and then they have to be equipped with infrastructure to handle flood level overflow water that comes at you at 3,000-4,000 cubic feet per second.
Recharge is great but one has to understand we’re going to have build a whole new water infrastructure that uses and overlies existing surface water and groundwater facilities.
Then associated water rights will need to be adjudicated. OK, we put all this water in the ground. We need to make sure we haven’t harmed any downstream users, and secondly, who owns this stuff? How fast can it be withdrawn? Just like with all things water, recharge is complicated.
SGMA is by no means done, it’s being perfected, or adjusted, as we go.
Q. What would you say to growers who are overwhelmed? Are there any dates they should watch for, or what should they keep an eye on for hearings and bodies they should stay engaged with?
BG: No one’s ever calibrated the total regulatory burden, which is one thing I hope the California Farm Act does. When I worked for Schwarzenegger I asked a number of ag organizations to do so.
It’s difficult if not impossible for growers to go it alone, so they need to be in an appropriate trade organization. They need to participate as much as they can with their local GSAs and coalitions.
It is overwhelming. There are too many regulations. That’s what we’re working to reduce and further control.
Like Karen Ross said, it’s a historic burden and perhaps a tipping point. She estimated that SGMA will cause fallowing of up to 25% of acreage. Other sources estimated as high as 40% fallowing in some areas. SGMA is going to have a significant impact, there’s no doubt.
Participate in the GSAs and pay attention to what your trade organizations are doing.
Q. What should growers do in this complex regulatory environment to help themselves?
BG: People should get involved with their GSAs and make their voice heard every step of the way. It’s that simple and that difficult all at the same time.
Q. It sounds like there should be a support group for growers, or a hotline for people with regulatory stress in their lives.
BG: I think that’s the function that coffee shops serve in Sonoma County and in Lodi at five o’clock in the morning. That’s where the support groups meet.