SACRAMENTO, CA – Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) passed, and Governor Brown signed, AB 2348, which creates the California Winter Rice Habitat Incentive Program. Supported by $5 million in the 2018-19 Budget, this program will offset the cost of flooding rice fields in the winter, a practice that improves soil health after the growing season and provides critical wetland habitat for birds and other wildlife along California’s Pacific Flyway.
“Researchers at UC Davis told me about the important environmental benefits winter-flooded rice provides,” said Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry. “Flooding rice fields in the winter helps decompose leftover rice straw and waste grain, which offsets open-burring, creates wetland habitat for birds, and can support nurseries for fish. Incentivizing winter-flooding is supported by environmentalists, hunters, and farmers alike.”
Winter-flooding of rice fields mitigates the environmental impacts of extensive waterbird habitat loss in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Unfortunately, winter-flooding is becoming increasingly less common. Due to the emergence of alternate rice straw decomposition practices and increased water rates, winter-flooding is no longer cost competitive. By incentivizing the practice, AB 2348 will reverse this concerning downward trend and also require fields to stay flooded for longer periods than is typical to enhance habitat benefits for birds.
“AB 2348 promotes collaborative, voluntary programs to create wetland habitat on agricultural lands,” said Matthew Reiter, PhD scientist from Point Blue Conservation Science. “Our research found that these programs played a critical role during the recent drought - providing a significant portion of the flooded habitat for one of the continent’s largest populations of migrating waterbirds during the fall and winter that otherwise may not have been available.”
“It is great to see the importance of the California rice industry’s winter-flooded fields recognized within an official state-funded habitat initiative,” said Tim Johnson, President and CEO of the California Rice Commission. “These acres are now critical to the millions of waterbirds using the Pacific Flyway. We appreciate Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry’s leadership to help secure a future for winter-flooding practices benefiting waterfowl.”
The California Winter Rice Habitat Incentive Program will take effect starting January 1, 2019.
Aguiar-Curry represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Lake and Napa Counties, all of Yolo County except West Sacramento, and parts of Colusa County, Solano County, and Sonoma County. www.asm.ca.gov/aguiar-curry