Friday, May 16, 2014

News articles and links from May 16, 2014

Farming News

From: Eric Holthouse, Slate

In California's vast Central Valley, agriculture is king. But the king appears fatally ill, and no worthy replacement is in sight, as the area noticeably reverts into the desert it was little more than a century ago. Signs line the back roads here that run parallel to wide irrigation ditches:
"Pray for rain"
"No water = No jobs"

As I've already discussed in the Thirsty West series, city-dwelling Californians are a bit insulated from near-term water shortages thanks to the state's intricate tentacles of aqueducts, pipelines, and canals that divert water from the snowcapped Sierras to the urban core along the coast. Rapid population growth looms ominously, but for now, you'll still be able to brush your teeth in Oakland and Burbank.

Coalition response...  Author Eric Holthaus spent a short amount of time in our state to capture an understanding of agriculture and the water needed to produce a food supply that feeds our nation and others around the world. He correctly indicates that "We can't eat without California" when considering the over 400 crops grown by our farmers. But his perspective on farm water is a bit askew.

Water is a very complicated issue and it takes years to fully comprehend how it is used in California by the environment, farmers and families and businesses. Contrary to the author's assertion, agriculture does not use 80 percent of California's water. Every five years the California Department of Food and Agriculture releases a Water Plan that details how water is used. The current Water Plan that is now under review describes water use as: environmental, 49 percent; agriculture, 41 percent; and urban, 10 percent. 

California almonds, like other commodities that are exported, provide an economic lifeline to many beyond the farm, including truckers, processors, dockworkers and others. In other words, the water that is used to grow almonds provides jobs that people rely on to care for their families.

During this third consecutive year of drought farmers are scrambling to secure water supplies to grow their crops and keep trees and vines alive. This rush to find water is not only caused by the ongoing drought but also federal regulations aimed to protect endangered species in our State's Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Water that could have been used to grow a healthy and affordable food supply has been redirected to fish in the Delta. Last year 800,000 acre-feet of water were given over to the fish and another 450,000 acre-feet this year. Unfortunately, scientists cannot tell us if these water diversions are helping the fish.

Because of this lack of water being delivered to our farms, farmers have been forced to turn to underlying aquifers for the water they need. This dropping of groundwater levels could have been avoided if reasonable regulations were in existence to allow farmers to receive the water they have a legal right to receive.

Water Supply

From: Staff, KSEE 24

Valley leaders want to change a recent water decision that could dry up East Side farms. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Orange Cove Mayor Gabriel Jimenez and Friant water officials held a press conference about an hour ago at Fresno City Hall.

They said the Bureau of Reclamation is not following procedure and ignoring senior water rights when allocating water. The bureau is releasing water but Friant water users won't get any. It means East side farms could dry up.

From: Michael Doyle, McClatchey DC

Flood control projects in California's Central Valley get a boost in a long-awaited water resources bill now flowing toward final congressional approval. Under the tiller of some well-placed California lawmakers, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorizes major levee work protecting the likes of Sacramento County's Natomas Basin, the Stanislaus County town of Newman and the Sutter County town of Yuba City.

"Sacramento faces some of the nation's most severe flood risks," noted Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., adding that she is "pleased that this bipartisan legislation includes critical flood control that protects lives and property in California."


From: Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle

Sen. Dianne Feinstein will try to fast-track farm-friendly drought legislation through the Senate over the objections of environmentalists, who the senator complains have done nothing to help her adapt California's aging water system to deal with climate change and the addition of millions of thirsty residents.

Environmentalists "have never been helpful to me in producing good water policy," the California Democrat said. "You can't have a water infrastructure for 16 million people and say, 'Oh, it's fine for 38 million people,' when we're losing the Sierra Nevada snowpack.' "

San Joaquin River

From: Staff, The Business Journal

The Friant Water Authority says its getting the short end of the stick as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced plans to release water from Millerton Lake to benefit wildlife refuges and junior contractors farther west instead of serving growers in the Fresno area.

On May 15, the agency will begin using supplies from the Central Valley Project's Friant Dam to meet contractual obligations with the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

From: Robert Rodriguez, Fresno Bee

Farmers, water district officials and city leaders expressed frustration Thursday over the decision by federal managers to tap water from Friant Dam to meet a long-standing obligation with west-side landowners.

Mario Santoyo, who represents the Latino Water Coalition, said the federal Bureau of Reclamation acted prematurely by using water from Millerton Lake. He said water from other sources, including reservoirs at Shasta and San Luis, should have been used instead of Friant Dam.

From: Gene Haagenson, Fresno Bee

They've turned on the faucet at Friant Dam. Most of the water is heading for farms in Merced County. It's the first time in 70 years water has been diverted there, but the government has a contractual obligation to provide it even though its leaves other water users high and dry.

You'd think this surge of water, during a drought would be welcome. But even the farmers who are receiving this water are not pleased. Cannon Michael said, "We have really no choice and it's a terrible position to be in."


From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Everyone knows Stanislaus County farmers are pumping lots of groundwater to irrigate their crops this season, but no one knows for sure how much they're pumping or whether they're overdrafting the region's aquifers. And, apparently, farmers aren't too keen about revealing their information.

Stanislaus' Water Advisory Committee is wrestling with proposals about how - and whether - to get that pumping and water level data from agricultural well owners.

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