California governor signs winter rice field habitat incentive bill

geese flooded fieldsCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown has signed Assembly Bill 2348, also known as the “California Winter Rice Habitat Incentive Program.”

Carried by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), the legislation authorizes the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to contract with private landowners or lessees to flood rice ground for at least 70 days between Oct. 15 and March 15, according to the bill summary.

The 2018-19 state budget contains $5 million for the initial development and program start-up. Initially, the contracts would be for three years.

To qualify, the land must have been in rice two out of the past three years. Priority would be given to parcels that also are home to endangered or threatened species.

In an Aug. 17 letter to Aguiar-Curry, the California Waterfowl Association along with several other related groups, said they supported the measure as amended.

“The undersigned support the flooding of rice in winter for waterfowl habitat and air quality purposes. It is becoming apparent that winter-flooded rice fields may provide benefits to endangered salmon and Delta smelt, as well,” they wrote in the letter.

The California Rice Commission plans to work with the Fish and Wildlife Department to establish the develop rules of the new program and establish provisions for receiving and evaluating growers applications.

“We very much appreciate the leadership of Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry to carry this legislation through to completion as well as her efforts to champion the proposal for the initial $5 million in program funding,” CRC said in a recent news release.