The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
September - October 2007
Setting a standard for agricultural water use
North Livermore serves as model for integrating land and water use
In 2000, when Alameda County voters passed Measure D, the Alameda County Open Space Initiative, the Livermore agricultural community had some concerns.
The initiative was not anti-agriculture - it made North Livermore off-limits for urban development and therefore, at least implicitly, made agriculture the main land use there - but the agricultural community needed to understand not only how it might affect its land use, but also how the Sierra Club, which had led the campaign for Measure D, would react to proposals for developing a more adequate water supply.
As a result, leaders from the Sierra Club and the Livermore community sat down together for an extended series of discussions to hammer out a set of principles to guide water development in the Tri-Valley area. The Bay Chapter was pleased to open this discussion.
Why work with farmers?
Environmentalists support ecologically sound farming, and politically we want farmers to work with us for environmental protection, not to be worrying about how land-use regulations might limit their options.
More generally, agriculture is a critical tool for preserving open space. Agricultural lands provide greenery, soil rather than pavement, and substantial wildlife habitat.
Local agriculture near urban areas provides a local food supply that does not have to be trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to market. It thus reduces energy use and air pollution, and could be invaluable during emergencies.
Local agriculture can provide a niche for small family farms, which are usually better stewards of the land than big agribusiness. Such farms are more likely to be organic or to minimize use of toxic chemicals and to preserve genetic diversity by growing heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. Such diversity is an essential resource to protect against blights that might attack more commonly grown cultivars, and is a source of genetic variation for plant development, whether through genetic engineering or more traditional techniques.
The principles themselves
For Measure D to be successful, there have to be viable economic uses for the lands outside the Urban Growth Boundary. Agriculture is generally the only suitable use. In North Livermore this generally means viticulture, olive production, or grazing. Grapes and olives are high-value crops that can be grown economically here, but they require additional water. That's the need that the principles were designed to address.
The Sierra Club supports protecting agricultural lands in Alameda County and can support expansion of agricultural activities in areas where the risk of environmental harm is minimal.
The Sierra Club's principles on agricultural water development proposals include the following.
The full text of the principles
Sierra Club S. F. Bay Chapter Principles Regarding Agricultural Water Development in the East Alameda County Tri-Valley Area
The purpose of this statement is to clarify the intent of the Sierra Club's position with regard to Agricultural Water Development in Alameda County. The Sierra Club supports protecting agriculture and agricultural lands in Alameda County and can support expansion of agricultural activities in areas where the risk of environmental harm is minimal. The environmental benefits accruing from expanded agricultural operations can include:
Expanded agricultural development should be considered as one component of a package of land protection alternatives that also includes restrictions on harmful development, voluntary acquisition of properties in fee title by public and private conservation agencies (park districts, land trusts, etc.), voluntary purchase or donation of conservation easements on undeveloped land, transfer of development credits to existing urbanized areas, and other appropriate mechanisms.
The Sierra Club may endorse and actively advocate for an agricultural water development proposal or plan if the following conditions are substantially met.
© 2007 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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