California’s historic drought was a key topic during the meeting, and was a primary focus of the organization’s advocacy work during the past year, according to Ag Council President Emily Rooney.
“Given the state’s water crisis and the many pending regulations surrounding ground water, the top issues facing our membership heading into the coming year are related to water—both quality and quantity,” she said during her annual address. “Proposed increases in several fees associated with water use have the potential to be very challenging to our members’ food production businesses.”
California’s drought has meant that Ag Council is also focusing a significant amount of its legislative efforts on water issues, said Tricia Geringer, vice president of Ag Council while addressing members during the group’s Delegate Body Meeting.
“The only silver lining to the fact that we are facing the driest year on record since the state first began keeping track in 1885, is that water shortages are touching every California resident personally,” said Geringer. “That means, as in the words of Governor Jerry Brown during his remarks to our members at the World Ag Expo in February, ‘the drought seems to have been a wake-up call to people regarding how critical water is to our state’s prosperity.’”
After declaring a drought State of Emergency in January, Governor Brown on March 1 signed legislation (SB 103 and SB 104) to help address immediate water shortages faced by several communities and to provide funding to increase local water supplies.
“This is only the beginning of water-focused legislation that we will see in this session,” said Geringer. “The Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act is an $11 billion water bond measure that is certified to be on the November ballot. Many believe the bond is too expensive to pass and contains too many earmarks for specific projects. As a result, there are currently nine pending bills that have been introduced in the legislature to replace the existing bond.”
Ag Council, along with other stakeholders, supports the effort to reduce the total bond amount, but is also seeking a $3 billion continuous appropriation for water storage projects. Geringer said that the organization will emphasize a strong storage component in the water bond during its advocacy work because it is imperative to better prepare California for future water demands and potential shortages.
“Nearly one-third of legislators were freshman members in 2013, so our work in familiarizing law makers with the agricultural industry and its importance in California’s economy is a constant priority,” added Geringer.
More information about Ag Council’s advocacy efforts can be found in the 2013 Impact Report (www.agcouncil.org).