Monday, May 12, 2014

News articles and links from May 12, 2014


From: Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee

A number is written in red marker on a white board in Ed Sills' office in Pleasant Grove. It marks the day, May 5, when the last rain fell on the 3,000 acres where Sills grows organic rice, beans and popcorn.

In a normal year, Sills gets allocated 2 acre-feet of water per acre from the South Sutter Water District. This year he is getting half that. He has responded by switching 190 acres of his rice land to popcorn and dry beans, which will require less water.

From: Mike Dunbar, Merced Sun-Star

Here's a best-case scenario:

In the name of helping endangered fish, the state takes 40 percent of the water flowing down the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers and sends it to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, leaving a third less for irrigation. Farmers start pumping more groundwater for their trees and vines. After a couple of droughts, there isn't enough groundwater left, and the trees and vines begin dying. Everyone loses. Meanwhile, south valley farmers get guaranteed water deliveries from the new gigantic tunnels near Sacramento. With this reliable supply, their trees and vines flourish; their land prices rise and they make huge profits when there's no competition from nut farmers to the north.

From: Dale Kasler, Sacramento Bee

This town calls itself the "Apricot Capital of the World," but the slogan is out of date. Nowadays, it's almond orchards that dominate the landscape in this part of Stanislaus County, along with much of the rest of the San Joaquin Valley.

Almonds have become California's miracle food. Growing consumer demand has driven up prices and created a profitable $4 billion-a-year crop. In dollar terms, almonds are California's leading agricultural export, leaving the state's exalted wineries in the dust. In response, farmers have planted hundreds of thousands of acres of new trees in the past 20 years.

From: Beth Brookhart-Pandol, Bakersfield Californian 

So writer Froma Harrop rides around in a truck with Lois Henry for a day to see Kern County farming and has concluded that we plant way too many crops here ("Even in drought, there are fortunes to be made," May 6). "What gives is a byzantine system of allocating water to a farming empire built where it shouldn't be -- in a desert. In Louisiana and Mississippi, water for cotton falls from the heavens. Under these dry skies it comes from engineers," she wrote.

Yes, and engineers also gave you the computer you typed that story on -- you didn't build it at home I imagine -- but I digress. Rain does fall on Louisiana cotton, but FYI, we grow far superior cotton here, one that makes your bath towels and sheets soft and one that gives a high rate of return to a cotton industry in this valley that, until recent times, created thousands upon thousands of jobs for many residents. And, just a side note, folks like you didn't like when we planted cotton here because it was a farm program crop. "Why are you planting subsidized crops?" was the cry 25 years ago.

Water Storage

From: Sarah Null, UC Davis:

In California, we ask water managers to do the near-impossible task of managing rivers for both environmental and economic objectives, which are often at odds. Where we have repeatedly failed to stem or reverse environmental problems, environmental regulation can drive water management.

California's Bay Delta - a water source for 25 million people and about 3 million acres of farmland - is a prime example. No sooner did Gov. Jerry Brown declare a statewide drought emergency in January than enforcers of the Endangered Species Act ordered big cuts in Delta water exports to protect the delta smelt, a native species on the brink of extinction.


From: Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times

In a one-page ruling, an Orange County Superior Court judge last week swept aside environmental challenges to Cadiz Inc.'s plans to pump groundwater from beneath the Mojave Desert and sell it to Southern California suburbs..

The May 1 decision by Judge Gail Andler cleared one set of obstacles to the controversial project. "We're grateful for that result," Cadiz Chief Executive Scott Slater said. "We're going to keep our head down and keep going about things the right way."

From: Staff, San Francisco Chronicle 

The change is noticeable to anyone who has driven California's Central Valley over the past decade. Neat row crops of tomatoes, sunflowers and cotton and wide fields of alfalfa are giving way to almond and pistachio orchards and vineyards. It's a straightforward tale of economics - nuts and grapes produce higher profits than hay. But these permanent crops are much more dependent on groundwater. To find out how this story of a changing landscape might play out in California's future, we need to look deeper. We need to go underground.

From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian

The state will likely pass some kind of groundwater regulation this year. How could it not? As surface supplies have dried up, water users are sucking down the state's aquifers faster than a kindergartner on a banana milkshake. In Kern County, the subbasin is being overdrafted by an average 780,000 acre-feet per year, according to conservative estimates. That means users are taking out 780,000 acre feet more than is being replaced. That can't last.

In response, legislators have spit out at least two groundwater bills, so far, and the Department of Water Resources recently issued a report painting a grim picture of groundwater supplies.

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