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.

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