Oct 3, 2019

Governor signs rice-flooding incentive bill

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an important bill on Wednesday to improve California Winter Rice Habitat Incentive Program, which was created in 2018 by AB 2348 (Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters).

The 2018 law allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to enter into contracts with private landowners to help offset the costs of winter rice flooding on lands determined to be important for waterfowl conservation, similar to the Presley Program. The 2018-19 budget provided $5 million for the program, of which about 10% has been granted so far.

The bill signed yesterday by the governor, AB 256, also by Aguiar-Curry, makes changes that will make it easier for farmers to participate in the program.

“AB 256 will give landowners greater flexibility to participate in the program by allowing them to rotate their fields,” said Mark Hennelly, vice president of legislative affairs for California Waterfowl. “We commend Aguiar-Curry for carrying the bill and the California Rice Commission for sponsoring this legislation, which will enhance wintering waterfowl habitat and hunting opportunities.”

The new law also:

  • Removes the requirement that a field must have been farmed to rice at least two of the last three growing seasons, instead requiring the field to have been farmed to rice during the growing season immediately before the winter flooding season.
  • Allows lessees of rice lands, not just landowners, to enter into the contracts.
  • Authorizes DFW to contract out for assistance with implementing conservation contracts.

To read CWA's letter of support for the bill, click here.

California's rice fields are a critical addition to California's remaining wetlands. They are used by 230 species of wildlife, including 7 million waterfowl, several hundred thousand shorebirds and wading birds and endangered giant garter snakes. They also provide important hunting opportunity for California's waterfowl hunters.

Assembly Member Cecilia Aquiar-Curry (center) is one of the lawmakers CWA staff and volunteers visited on Aug. 14 for CWA's Lobby Day at the Capitol. Others, shown from left to right, are CWA Communications Director Holly Heyser, CWA member and volunteer Portia Stewart, CWA consultant Dan Connelly and CWA director of Water Law and Policy Jeff Volberg.