Wednesday, April 16, 2014

News articles and links from April 16, 2014


From: Carolyn Lochhead,

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's revised drought bill is coming under increasing attack from the left even as the California Democrat tries to woo Republicans to speed the bill's passage through the Senate without committee consideration.

More than a dozen environmental groups, including Sierra Club California, Audubon California, Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, issued a letter late Monday demanding changes to the revised bill, S.2198.

Coalition response... Isn't it disingenuous for environmental organizations to defend commercial salmon fishing while at the same time demand farm water pumping restrictions because of the impact it might have on salmon?

On the other hand, if it's an economic argument let's look at the numbers.

According to a 2009 CBS News report, California's salmon industry is worth about $82 million in economic activity based on $22 million worth of salmon caught in rivers and the ocean. Environmental activists justify reducing farm water deliveries to prop up an industry that contributes less that $100 million to the state's economy. At the same time, farm water cuts stand to put almost 30,000 people out of work, based on farm-related employment estimates in a 2004 report by the Pacific Institute. The cost to California's economy this year from lost farm production, jobs and associated business activity is 60 times ($5 billion) the economic value of salmon.

Are salmon important to California? Absolutely. Is commercial salmon fishing comparable to the jobs and economic activity generated by farming? No.

Water Use

From: Tom Pfingsten, San Diego Union-Tribune  

The size of the trees was probably the first thing Kurt and Jennifer Bantle noticed about the grove that would all but consume their weekends and most of their waking thoughts after they decided to become avocado farmers.

"The trees were 40, 50, 60 feet tall," Kurt Bantle said on a recent afternoon. "Best I can tell, they were put in during the early '80s."

Coalition response... California's growers have long sought to address the water problems the Bantle's are facing in their grove.  Scientific irrigation, used in most modern production agriculture seeks to optimize not only the quantity of water applied through the use of laser leveled fields, drip emitters and buried irrigation tape, but also the timing of the irrigation. The Bantle's will undoubtedly be looking into the different soil moisture monitoring equipment being used by growers to ensure that water is being used as efficiently as possible.  Water too much, and you risk not just wasted water, but promoting plant diseases; water too little, and the crop is a bust.  The best of luck to the Bantle's as they pursue a bountiful crop.


From: Eric Morath, Wall Street Journal

Grocery shoppers may soon need more green in their wallets to afford their next salad. The cost of fresh produce is poised to jump in the coming months as a three-year drought in California shows few signs of abating, according to an Arizona State University study set to be released Wednesday.

The study found a head of lettuce could increase in price as much as 62 cents to $2.44; avocado prices could rise 35 cents to $1.60 each; and tomatoes could cost 45 cents more at $2.84 per pound. (The run-up in produce prices is in line with other projections showing that overall food cost gains are expected to accelerate this year.)

From: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News

Nearly nine out of 10 Californians say the state is suffering from a "serious water shortage," according to a new poll that confirms widespread concern over the lack of rain, diminished Sierra snowpack and low reservoir levels after three years of drought.

But deep, decades-old divisions remain across the state on how to solve the dilemma, the statewide Field Poll of 1,000 registered voters found - with the biggest differences being between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

From: Tom Vacar, KTVU

A clearer picture is emerging about how much more nagging drought is going to cost consumer shopping for produce this spring and summer. It will take more of your green to get greens at the market. California is the nation's produce basket.

Melanie Snell, who took her kids to the Alameda Farmers Market Tuesday, was aware the drought would soon affect produce prices.

From: Jeremy White, Sacramento Bee

Californians agree their state is parched, but they diverge by region on how supplies dried up and what should be done about the drought.

"There's clearly a consensus that the state has a serious water shortage," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said of a survey on the subject released Tuesday. "There, however, is no consensus to what got us into this situation."


From: Randy Record & David Orth, Sacramento Bee

It's the height of the spring planting season in the San Joaquin Valley. But this year, the sight of well-digging rigs is adding a new dimension to a problem quietly unfolding beneath large swaths of this fertile land.

Faced with the prospect of receiving little or no surface water due to drought, growers are relying on groundwater like never before to stay afloat this year. It's a symptom of a problem that is sparking new levels of concern among the state's water managers."

Water Supply

From: Dennis Wyatt, Manteca Bulletin

Water Manteca residents send down the drain could one day help irrigate South County crops. Manteca Councilman Steve DeBrum convinced his colleagues Tuesday to have staff explore working with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to see if 7 million gallons of treated wastewater the city releases back into the San Joaquin River could instead be diverted for local farm use.

Mayor Willie Weatherford believes 100 acres designated for open space as part of the 1,471-home Trails of Manteca neighborhood  being pursued south of Woodward Avenue  and west of McKinley Avenue could be used to create a large holding lake for treated wastewater. From there, the SSJID could pump it into its delivery system serving  farmland south of the city. At the same time, the manmade lake could also help recharge underground water tables that ultimately are tapped by Lathrop and Manteca municipal well systems.

From: Rob Parsons, Merced Sun-Star

Irrigation district officials on Tuesday formally requested more water from state authorities as part of a complex proposal that would extend the drought-shortened growing season, help migrating fish and possibly provide the cash-strapped district with an extra $5 million.

After Tuesday's vote by the Merced Irrigation District board of directors, irrigation officials will pursue a request with the state Water Resources Control Board to relax the so-called minimum pool requirement at Lake McClure.

From: John Holland, Modesto Bee

Farmers in the Modesto Irrigation District got a 10 percent increase in their basic water rate Tuesday, along with a temporary drought surcharge that's much bigger.

The board also capped 2014 water deliveries at 24 vertical inches per acre - better than the 18 inches that had been planned, but still far less than the average of 42 inches since 1989. Even with the increases, MID has some of the cheapest water in the San Joaquin Valley, and this year's allotment is much better than what some farmers in the region face.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

News stories and links from April 15, 2014

Water Supply

From: Staff, Merced Sun-Star

Growers on the west side of the Valley got a little good news late last week: They're going to get more water than they had feared. That's not to say they're going to get all the water they need, far from it. But the specter of drought is lifting ever so slightly.

"The mood is better and hopeful," said Chris White, general manager of the Central California Irrigation District, which covers 145,000 acres from Crows Landing to Mendota.


From: Hudson Sangree, Modesto Bee

At two treatment plants in El Dorado Hills, millions of gallons of brown wastewater pour in every week, and millions of gallons of clean water pour out through purple pipes that irrigate the lawns of 4,000 homes. Proponents call it water recycling. Critics call it "toilet-to-tap." But as the drought has taken hold in California, opposition to the idea has been drying up, and recycled water is winning acceptance. It's expected to be a significant source for many Californians in years to come.

Two irrigation districts are arguing over which should get treated sewer water from Turlock. The city in January was closing in on a deal to sell some of its supply to the Del Puerto Water District, which serves farmers along Interstate 5 between Vernalis and Santa Nella. The sale is on hold while officials discuss a competing claim from the Turlock Irrigation District.

From: Hannah Furfaro, Fresno Bee

On her way to visit the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier on Monday, University of California President Janet Napolitano got a bird's eye view of California cropland and rivers dry from the drought -- a sight she hopes the universities can help fix through continued research and outreach.

Flying from Oakland to first see the Sacramento River and then the San Joaquin River, Napolitano did an aerial tour of California's heartland before making a stop to meet with her top agricultural advisers about a food security and sustainability initiative she's due to unveil this spring. The university leader was mum on the details, but said all 10 UC campuses -- and its research centers -- will be part of the plan.

Sacramento River

From: Jim Robbins, New York Times

The Central Valley was once one of North America's most productive wildlife habitats, a 450-mile-long expanse marbled with meandering streams and lush wetlands that provided an ideal stop for migratory shorebirds on their annual journeys from South America and Mexico to the Arctic and back.

Farmers and engineers have long since tamed the valley. Of the wetlands that existed before the valley was settled, about 95 percent are gone, and the number of migratory birds has declined drastically. But now an unusual alliance of conservationists, bird watchers and farmers have joined in an innovative plan to restore essential habitat for the migrating birds.

Monday, April 14, 2014

News articles and links from April 14, 2014


From: Nick Bertell, Eureka Times-Standard

If you've been down south lately, I'm sure you've seen the electronic road signs telling you California is in an extreme drought. We're three years into it, and University of California professors are saying that this could be the driest year in the last 500. Precipitation in Humboldt County is at 50 percent of normal, and we should feel lucky. The state average is 20 percent. I can't imagine we'll get by without some rationing, which millions of people already are. But even if we have enough water to get by, life may get more expensive.

The Wall Street Journal ran a lead article recently decrying surging prices for food staples from meat to coffee to vegetables. Forecasts are for food prices to rise 3.5 percent in 2014 as the western U.S. and other major food producers such as Brazil and Australia are deep in drought.

Coalition response... Investment advisor Nick Bertell talks about the importance of California agriculture and food production for the world. Some of his facts, however, miss the mark when it comes to water use and subsidies. According to the recently released California Water Plan by the State Department of Water Resources, agricultural water use in California accounts for 41 percent of the state's dedicated water supply, not the 80 percent Bertell contends. And agricultural water users are not subsidized either, with the exception of the forgiveness of interest on the construction of the federal Central Valley Project by Congress in 1935. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the CVP, "This multi-purpose project plays a key role in California`s powerful economy, providing water for 6 of the top 10 agricultural counties in the nation`s leading farm state. It has been estimated that the value of crops and related service industries has returned 100 times Congress`s $3 billion investment in the CVP."  That's a great investment in anyone's book.

From: Kathleen Stricklin, Sacramento Bee

Re "California water plan unveils hardships to come as drought persists" (Our Region, April 10): In 2007 Ford began the process of retooling their plants to make smaller cars. Better late than never, they were thinking ahead to the future.

Good company planning is what makes or breaks an industry. The same can be said about our current water crisis. As complicated as the state delivery system is, an even more complicated system was busy preparing for the worst. In the last two years, I have noticed the native plants in the creeks nearby are taller than in years past. They sent their roots deeper in an effort to find more water. Farmers in California have been gulping water from every mud puddle and creek they could find for hundreds of years, and the current drought is leaving them high and dry.

Coalition response... Kathleen Stricklin is right when she says we should have been planning for the next drought. But she misses the point when she calls for farmers to be installing drip irrigation systems as the solution. They have already been doing that and in great numbers. In the last 10 years California farmers have invested almost $3 billion upgrading irrigation systems on more than 2.4 million acres. Preparing for a drought takes broader actions. As a state we should have also been investing in additional storage projects to provide a "bank account" of water that would have helped supply our needs when Mother Nature takes a break. "Saving for a rainy (or rather dry) day" is a time tested solution of resource management.

From: Robert Dugan, Sacramento Bee

Re "California water plan unveils hardships to come as drought persists" (Our Region, April 10): As California continues to face a drought, state and federal water and fisheries managers should be commended for working to get our state back onto a firm foundation of reliable water supplies for people, the environment and the economy with their proposed Drought Operations Plan.

For too long, we risked disaster from a drought we all knew would come. We've yielded to drain northern reservoirs to dangerously low levels in order to increase exports and provide marginally higher environmental benefits.

Coalition response... Managing California's water supply is a statewide challenge because water is a public resource for all Californians, not the supply of one region over another. Public water agencies from the Oregon border to the Imperial Valley have invested in infrastructure that serves the farms, homes and businesses of California's 38 million people. The current drought has helped identify weaknesses in the system, such as inadequate storage and a conveyance system that needs upgrading. In the future we have to be able to protect our environmental resources while still being able to deliver water to people who have a legal right to use it.


From: Scott Smith, San Diego Union-Tribune

The scarcity of irrigation water in drought-stricken California has created such a demand for well drilling services that Central Valley farmer Bob Smittcamp is taking matters into his own hands.

He's buying a drilling rig for $1 million to make certain he has enough water this summer for thousands of acres of fruit and vegetable crops. "It's like an insurance policy," said Smittcamp, who knows two other farmers doing the same thing. "You have to do something to protect your investment.

From: Staff, Sacramento Bee

California's century-old groundwater problem no longer is underground and invisible. Last Sunday's report by The Bee's Tom Knudson was an eye-opener.

Taking more water out of groundwater basins than goes in pits neighbor against neighbor in the San Joaquin Valley and in some coastal and Southern California areas. Farmers and residents see their wells going dry and, with land subsidence, some canals running backwards."

From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Turlock resident Dorene "DeeDee" D'Adamo, one of five members of the State Water Resources Control Board, will participate in Tuesday's "Groundwater Challenges" forum at California State University, Stanislaus.

D'Adamo has lived in the San Joaquin Valley for more than 20 years. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her to the water board last year, after she had served 14 years on the California Air Resources Board.


From: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

California's drought: if you live and farm in the state there's little else you could be told to illustrate just how bad it is for the state's agriculture industry. One of those impacts stretches off the farm and onto the test plots of the state's Land Grant institution, which this year celebrates its centennial of cooperative work with California agriculture.

The University of California Cooperative Extension is not an unlikely victim of the drought, though theirs is not an impact that will cause them to lose the farm. Still, they see and feel it. Many growers in California will receive no surface water allocation this year because of the drought. Neither will the University of California's Westside Research and Extension Center (WSREC) near Five Points, which gets its surface water from Westlands Water District.

From: Jessica Peres, KFSN 30

In the South Valley, the lack of water from the current drought is forcing some growers to abandon their citrus trees. Farmers in Terra Bella have been dealt a 1-2-3 punch. Right now, they're really seeing the effects from the freeze all while dealing with zero water allocation.

Young citrus trees that sit on the foothills of Terra Bella have shriveled up and turned brown. They're a sad sight for growers there. The trees were hit hard during this past winter's freeze and now it's clear there's nothing left to salvage.

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

Q: What are the authorities asking and/or requiring farmers and agricultural interests to do immediately to reduce their water use, and by how much? Will there be significant penalties for non-compliance? - Jim Purvis, Gold River

A: Farms represent a very different regulatory environment than urban areas. In short, farms are not officially required to do anything to conserve water.

"Farmers, as far as required conservation, I'm not aware of anything in particular," said Mike Henry, assistant executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. When former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a major water conservation bill in 2009, it required urban areas to reduce water use 20 percent by 2020 or risk losing access to state grants for water projects. No similar requirement was imposed on farms or irrigation districts. This year, additional drought-specific conservation orders have been imposed on urban residents, but not farmers.

Water Supply

From: Rob Parsons, Merced Sun-Star

Irrigation officials will consider a potential deal with state water officials that could give Merced growers a little more water for their crops this year and help the irrigation district partially close a projected $10 million budget gap.

The Merced Irrigation District has been negotiating to lower the so-called minimum pool requirement at Lake McClure, which would give farmers more water - about 15,000 to 25,000 acre-feet, depending on runoff - for the drought-plagued growing season. An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land a foot deep, or about 325,900 gallons.

From: Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

Where water will flow this spring and summer is still up in the air, but it is looking likely that "senior water rights" holders in the Sacramento Valley will have their contracts honored.

More certainty will be worked out in the next few weeks. Agencies with junior water rights will still be scrambling, and some water users are still scheduled to receive zero.

Food News

From: David Karp, Los Angeles Times

Bagged rice may look like a mundane commodity, a bit incongruous at a local farmers market. But one taste of the variety grown by Koda Farms - with attractive, uniform kernels, alluring fragrance, soft texture and a rich, sweet flavor - makes clear that rice can be a delicacy well worth pursuing.
"Their brown rice is different from what is produced in Japan, but has its own unique, nutty flavor," said Sonoko Sakai, a locally based cooking teacher who frequently travels to Japan and represents traditional Japanese rice growers in the United States.

Friday, April 11, 2014

News articles and links from April 11, 2014


From: John Upton,

California has a radical plan for managing its rivers and reservoirs as drought grips the Golden State for the third consecutive year. It could help the state cling to water that would normally flush through rivers and into the Pacific Ocean - at the expense of wildlife and fishing folk who rely on the health of those rivers.

The seven-and-a-half-month plan, developed in consultation with federal officials, doesn't increase the amount of water that will be delivered to customers, but it makes major changes to how precious drops remaining in snowpacks, reservoirs, and rivers will be managed.

Coalition response... In periods of severe drought, everyone will be impacted by water shortages.  California's commercial fishing industry, recreational boaters and fishing enthusiasts included. For decades in-delta water quality has benefited from flows provided by the State and federal water projects regardless of water shortages elsewhere within the projects' service area.

This is especially true in the late summer and fall. During the third dry year in a row and long after human users are no longer able to rely on deliveries from our state's infrastructure, the projects might also fail to satisfy the desires of those who want more water released for fisheries. Water managers are working hard to protect the environment - with refuges served by the Central Valley Project receiving 40- 75% allocations, while farmers still receive none.

From: Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle

Sen. Dianne Feinstein called on reluctant GOP senators Thursday to support her drought bill, which she altered earlier this month to win support from Central Valley House Republicans.

The California Democrat has been pushing hard to get more water to San Joaquin Valley farms, urging federal agencies to relax environmental rules to do so.

Coalition response... Elected officials are charged with representing the needs and interests of their constituents, a difficult challenge for Senators in a state as diverse as California. Elected officials, unlike agency staff are accountable to the constituents they represent, and as such are the appropriate ones to engage in policy-making. When a law or other policy isn't working, they have the responsibility to evaluate it and make the necessary changes.

Environmental interest groups like the Bay Institute seem to want flexibility by everyone but themselves. There is little care for the people who are standing in food lines because no water is being delivered to support their jobs. In extreme years like this you would hope that even the most ardent environmental activists would show a little humanity.

From: Chris Clarke, KCET

A joint state and federal drought management plan released this week for the summer includes bad -- but not particularly surprising -- news for the Central Valley's wetlands.

The plan reaffirms that wildlife refuges and other managed wetlands in the California's largest valley will receive just 40 percent of the water from the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) in 2014 that they get in a typical year.

From: Tim Hearden, Capital Press

Despite more late-season storms in California, state and federal water planners weren't ready April 9 to start sending water to farms without senior water rights.Agencies maintained zero-water allocations for State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project contractors as they unveiled a comprehensive drought management plan to guide them through the remainder of 2014.

Officials said new allocations could still come in the next couple of weeks as they examine improved March runoff and an April 1 snowpack survey that was conducted amid a rather prolific snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada range.

From: Alan Bjerga, BusinessWeek

The drought that is withering vegetable and fruit crops in California may push up food prices more than the dry spell that ravaged the Corn Belt in 2012, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
That's because the current crisis has brought planting in California to a near-halt, while corn and soybean crops were still being produced during the 2012 drought, he said.

"It's simply because folks aren't planting," Vilsack told reporters today after a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. That may force the U.S. to rely on more-expensive imports of perishable goods, he said.

From: David Castellon, Visalia Times-Delta  

Even though it's spring, temperatures have already passed the 90-degree mark in the Valley, which has added to worries that one of the worst droughts in California's history seems likely to continue through the summer.

Expectations are that thousands of acres of crops may be lost because of lack of water, which in turn could cost numerous jobs both in and outside the agricultural industry, a decline in home buying and a slowdown in retail sales.

Water Supply

From: Rich Atwater, Los Angeles Daily News

Earthquakes have been shaking things up around the Southland, reminding long-term residents and transplants alike that we live in an earthquake-prone region and that a devastating quake could strike at any time. While scientists say a major quake is inevitable, we as a state are woefully unprepared for the next disaster.  

Nowhere is this more evident than in our water supply. The hub of our state's water supply is protected by a series of 100-year-old dirt levees that have grown dangerously fragile over time and are increasingly vulnerable to a major quake.


From: Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Pajaro Valley farmers are on track to break irrigation records in 2014 after tapping groundwater at unusually high levels during the first quarter of the year. Drought drove demand, and the combination of inadequate rainfall and heavy irrigation is adding stress to a strained groundwater basin.

That was the sobering backdrop to an irrigation and water conservation conference Thursday at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. More than 100 farmers, landowners, irrigators resource experts, agricultural consultants and vendors attended.