This intense drought is highlighting some pretty unfamiliar things for many of our readers — like, what is Friant Water Authority?
The authority is in the headlines because the drought is causing a shakeup in the organization. The long-time General Manager Ron Jacbosma has stepped aside, and eight of its 21 water district members have bailed.
Never heard of this authority? Read on.
This is an important political group connected to a multibillion-dollar economy and 1 million acres of farmland. The group also owns and operates the massive canal that sends Millerton Lake water more than 150 miles south to Kern County.
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The authority defends farm water rights for 15,000 growers along the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a public agency, formed in the 1980s. Its main office is in Lindsay.
Just so you understand how this all breaks down: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns and operates Friant Dam. It also is the lead agency in the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.
Back to the east-side growers. What’s their back story?
In the 1930s, east-side farming was dying. After Friant Dam was finished in the late 1940s, the San Joaquin River’s water turned this region into a powerhouse — a powerhouse that always got at least some river water.
Until last year. And again this year.
Now farm water districts are scrambling for a higher political profile to make their case for getting at least some water in years like this one. Many federal government could have sent them some water last year, instead of releasing it to west-side farmers who have historic rights to the San Joaquin.
But some districts don’t want to foot the bill for more advocacy. Plus, there are other disagreements and friction anytime the pressure is turned up on an organization with many different districts.
Districts and agencies from Chowchilla to Bakersfield buy federal river water on the Valley’s east side. Think of Chowchilla Irrigation District to the north and Arvin-Edison Water Storage District to the south. The city of Fresno is included.
The difference now is that only 13 of the 30 agencies buying this water are left in Friant Water Authority. The 30 agencies still will stick together on big water issues.
How will that look? It will unfold over the next year or so.