Atmospheric Rivers Hit California

Many Atmospheric Rivers Hit State

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

California needs an average of three atmospheric rivers annually to reach its average yearly rainfall. So far this year, the state has seen an incredible 46 atmospheric rivers. This intense rainfall has pushed much of California out of longstanding drought conditions.

California Ag Today spoke with Steve Johnson, a private meteorologist for farmers in California. We discussed atmospheric rivers (AR) and the abundance of rain California has seen in late winter and early spring.

“We had four very big AR flows, and that made a big difference. I think we’re up to 46, and that’s what has made the big difference this year,” Johnson said. With the additional 41 smaller AR, we have seen a very wet California; it is an astounding amount of atmospheric rivers.

Johnson explained that because the storms have been so difficult to predict, it has made things difficult for farmers planning their season. “This year, there was no signal at all. These storms crept up on us this winter. It was very, very dicey for forecasting,” he said. “The year was difficult because some of these storms – in fact the big ones – even though they showed up in the 14, 16-day period, they didn’t look gigantic until about day seven or eight. Then they start gaining and gaining and gaining, and by day four or day five they looked monstrous. Well, that’s not very much time to prepare.”

Johnson noted that these unpredictable storms were caused by an anomaly in the Pacific Ocean that is a remnant of last year’s El Nino. “The predominant reason that we kept getting these atmospheric rivers has been the fact that the sea surface temperatures across the Pacific Ocean have been in a very unusual anomaly,” he said. “They’ve been cold in the Gulf of Alaska, and we have a leftover bit of warmth from last year’s record-setting El Nino that has spread north to just west of the California coast – very warm waters that go all the way over to Japan.”

“If you take a look at the differentiation between the cold water in the Gulf of Alaska versus the warm water, the anomalies between Japan and California, that has created a zonal flow since October.

“Those atmospheric rivers have been grabbing a lot of moisture coming up from that warm water off the California to the Hawaii coast, and then coming into California. It’s just been one right after another,” Johnson said.



2021-05-12T11:05:16-07:00April 25th, 2017|

California Rice Growers are Model of Environmental Stewardship

Understanding Water Usage For California Rice Growers

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

The amount of rain California received in March has put a hold on rice planting.  In a normal year, California rice growers would be finishing up their fertilizer regimen, getting ready for their April planting.  Luis Espino, a UC Cooperative Extension Farm advisor in Colusa County, explained that the wet weather has caused many farmers to push back their planting schedule.  “We had a lot of rainfall, so the ground is pretty soaked. There are some areas that are still flooded; they still have water in the field. It’ll be a while before tractors can get in there, but I’m guessing that as things dry out, things should start moving soon,” Espino said.

Photos Courtesy of Matthew Sligar of Rice Farming TV

After five years of drought conditions, California finally had a considerable amount of rainfall over the winter months.  Available water supplies are at a much better level than they were in recent years, but there is another aspect that could hurt rice planting this season.  “There’s been a good winter, so they’re going to have enough water to plant acreage as they would on a normal year. What’s not helping is the price of rice. It’s a little too low, and so that might hinder some of the plantings,” Espino said.

The California rice industry is a model of environmental stewardship, working closely with regulatory agencies and conservation groups to ensure that rice production improves wildlife habitats while promoting sound management of water resources.  The rice industry has faced quite a bit of scrutiny over the past few years because of misconceptions regarding flooded rice fields.  It is important to understand that the water used to flood rice fields has more than one use and eventually goes back into the water cycle.  “There is a constant flow of water coming into the field and then leaving so that water is going back to the canal, going back eventually to the river and so it does get recycled,” Espino said.

Rice production in the state has changed remarkably over the past 50 years, with improved varieties, increased yields and improved marketability.  With water on the minds of many Californians, Espino explained some of the reasons why rice fields are flooded for planting.  “It can produce biomass and grain when the field is flooded. Maybe more important than that is the fact that water functions as a herbicide. By having water on the field, you have a way to suppress weeds from growing,” Espino said.

Aside from a small percentage of water being lost to evaporation, most of the standing water in rice fields stays in the overall water cycle.  “The water used in rice fields – before it gets back to the river – is used four times, so in four different fields,” Espino said.

2017-04-13T16:39:24-07:00April 13th, 2017|

Water District Talks Low Water Allocation

Water District’s Water Allocation Disappoints

 By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

The Bureau of Reclamation announced an initial 2017 water allocation for the Central Valley Project, and it’s considerably lower than what was expected.  Despite a wet winter and a significant snowpack, the Bureau has only allocated 65 percent of their contract supply to South-of-Delta contractors.

Johnny Amaral is the Deputy General Manager for the Westlands Water District – the largest agricultural water district in the United States.  Amaral thinks the deck is stacked against area growers as a result of water policy. “There are laws on the books that were deliberately put into place that created this bottleneck in the CVP and have hamstrung the CVP. This is the outcome that you get when you purposely curtail project operations or pumping: You get shortages,” Amaral said.

San Luis Reservoir is full this season, yet the allocation is only 65 percent.

The 65 percent allocation is especially disheartening since the announcement was not released until well into the planting season, forcing farmers to make decisions about land use and labor without any assurance of water supplies.  Amaral thinks there’s a need for a serious policy discussion as to whether the government truly values what growers produce.  “Those laws are going to have to be changed if we’re ever going to restore water supply to a situation where the westside ag contractors get 100 percent,” Amaral said.

Westlands Water District is made up of more than 1,000 square miles of premier farmland in western Fresno and Kings counties and provides water to 700 family-owned farms, averaging about 875 acres in size.  Amaral believes that it is time for legislators to reevaluate their priorities.  “It really comes down to a very simple but more fundamental policy question about, ‘Do we value being able to grow our own food in a safe way? Does that matter to people?’ ” Amaral said.

During election season last fall, then-candidate Donald Trump vowed to fix the water problems in California.  Farmers are going to need to be patient in their desire to see some action on those promises. “The agencies that have direct influence over western water issues and western resources issues, it’s really the Department of Interior. The Secretary of Interior was just confirmed a couple of weeks ago. … There are a whole host of positions and people that need to be nominated and put into place for the Trump Administration to really have a day to day impact over how the decision’s made on water supply and project operations,” Amaral said.

2017-04-06T11:42:51-07:00April 6th, 2017|

Saving Fish May Have Caused Oroville Disaster

Were Fish Cause of Oroville Dam Disaster?

By Jessica Theisman: Associate Editor

Reportedly, an effort to save millions of salmonoid fish below the Oroville dam may have caused a delay in releasing water from Oroville Dam on February 12. It set up the evacuation of at least 188,000 people in the area after authorities warned of an emergency spillway in the structure was in danger of failing and unleashing uncontrolled floods of water on towns below.

It was a near disaster and would have taken agricultural irrigation water with it, which has a lot of people asking questions. One person is Edward Needham. He provides agricultural services for growers throughout the state.

“I was trying to figure out what the missing piece was, why they could all of a sudden release 100,000 CFS and go from 65,000 to 100,000,” he said. Needham had spoken with a friend who worked at the refuge that day, who had told him he had been down at the fish hatchery, cleaning it out and saving all of the salmon.

“You’re telling me that they delayed the releases on the dam to save the four million salmon that were downstream?” Needham asked.

That may be correct! Many local news stations had reported that approximately 40 employees from the refuge were saving the salmon and loading them into trucks to be hauled away.

“That was two days before the dam nearly failed because of all the water it was holding back” Needham remarked.

2017-04-21T15:00:38-07:00March 21st, 2017|

Recharging Aquifer: Job One Today

Water Districts Recharging Aquifer

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

David Nixon, Deputy General Manager of the Arvin Edison Water Storage District

With the reservoir and all water district canals brimming, there is a great effort to move water into underground aquifer recharge ponds, said David Nixon, general manager of the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District in Kern County.

“Absolutely, we tried to get every acre foot of water in this district we possibly can,” he said. “With that water at this time of year, before it’s needed by agriculture, it’s all about water storage and rebuilding that underground aquifer.

“We have about 1500 acres of recharge ponds that we can use to refill the underground aquifer,” Nixon said.

It has been a great, wet year, with Middleton Lake filling in Fresno County, and water moving Southward in the Friant-Kern Canal all the way to Kern County, right where Arvin-Edison Water Storage District is located.

“It’s beautiful out there. Ponds are full, and hopefully, if everything works out with our water supply, they’ll be full all year long,” Nixon said.

“We take a wet year supply and turn it into dry year water. When we do not have ample water supply for the 53,000 acres that are under a long-term surface water contract with us, then we will run our wells,” Nixon said.

This year will not be one of those years.



2017-04-25T15:59:47-07:00February 20th, 2017|

Recharging Aquifers Using Floodwaters


Floodwaters Could Recharge Aquifer

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

Last October, the Almond Board of California announced new partnerships with Sustainable Conservation, Land IQ and UC Davis researchers to look at ways floodwaters could recharge Central Valley groundwater aquifers. Daniel Mountjoy is the Director of Resource Stewardship for Sustainable Conservation, an organization helping to solve some of the challenges facing our land, air and, most importantly, water.

Mountjoy explained the idea behind the partnership: “The concept is, ‘Can we capture the available peak flows when they’re available from surface supply and recharge the groundwater so that it’s available during dry years when surface flows are under stress from environmental needs and other demands for it?’ ”

The thought is to use surface irrigation water during times of availability in order to flood almond orchards to recharge the aquifers.  This would not only help growers during times of drought, but also benefit those with limited access to surface irrigation.  Mountjoy has found some success in their research.  The initial focus will be on sandy soils, where the infiltration is really fast.

The concept behind the effort has already shown a level of success on a smaller scale.  “In 2011, Don Cameron at Terranova Farms in Western Fresno County captured 3,000 acre feet of water on 1,000 acres of sandy farm land. He infiltrated on pistachios, grapes and alfalfa fields in some fallow land during winter, as well as well into June and July on some of those crops,” Mountjoy said.

Partnerships like these are needed as California begins to fall under the full implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  “What we’re doing with the Almond Board right now is looking for sites in the Sacramento Valley, because there’s more likelihood that we’re going to have water supply there to test the concept. Both UC Davis and Sustainable Conservation are out working with growers,” Mountjoy said.

UC Davis will be working on the crop health aspect, while Sustainable Conservation will be looking into how much water can be put on different crops and what types of management compatibility there is with the crop.  Once a significant amount of data is collected, the next step in the process will be looking towards how to further incentivize the method for growers.  “Any time you recharge an aquifer, it becomes everyone’s aquifer. There’s still not a system in place to credit landowners for the benefit they are providing to their neighbors and to other irrigation pumpers,” Mountjoy said.

There are over one million acres of almonds stretching roughly 500 miles from Red Bluff to the south end of the San Joaquin Valley. Nearly two-thirds of that land is considered moderately good or better in its ability to percolate water into the underlying aquifers.  “We have to prove the viability that you can actually do this on farm land across extensive acres, because that’s really the cheapest solution, rather than buying land, dedicating it to recharge basins and managing it that way without production of crops,” Mountjoy said.

2017-01-24T15:09:38-08:00January 24th, 2017|

Early Rain Caused Concern for Butte County Rice Growers

Butte County Rice Growers Respond to Early Rain


By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster


The Butte County Farm Bureau has been working to protect agriculture’s interests since 1917, thanks in large part to the continued hard work of their members. With continued support, the Bureau is able to advocate for growers on important issues in the community and fund educational opportunities.

Colleen Cecil, executive director of the Bureau, observed the rice harvest looks strong for Butte County rice growers, but a weather-related issue caused a bit of a problem during harvest. “We had some wet weather and then we had a break. Then it was, ‘Hurry up and get it done before the next storm comes in,’” said Cecil.

While the weather was an issue for growers, its impact was minimal. “There was a percentage, somewhere in the teens likely, of rice that was still left out in the field after the last wet weather event [in which] we just got pounded with rain,” Cecil noted.

“Water shortages over the past couple of years had forced many rice growers in Northern California to cut back on overall production. However earlier this year, as a result of improved rainfall last winter, growers went back to planting a more average level of rice. Those fields that had been taken out of production had a good amount of rest, and are now producing nicely once again.”

Though not uncommon, growers may have adjusted their harvest schedule in response to the early winter rain. “While it does happen on occasion, it is not ideal for farmers to harvest rice after wet weather all the time. It goes more slowly, it becomes a little messier, and it requires a transition from tires to tracks on their harvesting equipment. Again, it slows it down,” Cecil said.

“In 2013, the average rice grower in Butte County was producing just under 90 sacks per acre, with each sack weighing the [approximately] 100 pounds. Butte County has close to 88 thousand bearing acres of rice. While the local industry remains strong, early rainy weather can put a dent in production.”

Cecil explained, “It wasn’t that they couldn’t get [the rice] out, it was that the crop wasn’t ready to come out. There was still a tremendous amount of moisture in it and it wasn’t at the right percentage of moisture to take out of the field, so they had to wait.”

Last year’s crop report shows that Butte County’s five most valuable crops were walnuts, almonds, rice, prunes and peaches. The area’s walnut crop alone was valued at just under $241 million dollars. Cecil said this year’s harvest, “the almonds came off without a hitch. The walnuts got tagged at the end with the wet weather, but I don’t think it slowed everybody down,” Cecil said.

Featured Photo: Richard and Laurel Nelson’s Farm, Twin Creek Ranch, on Pleasant Grove Road and Marcum, Thursday, September 29, 2016.
Photo Courtesy of California Rice Commission/Brian Baer Photography

Butte County Rice Growers Association (BUCRA)

2016-12-01T12:56:49-08:00December 1st, 2016|

Water Diversion Plan for Fish, Part 2

Grober: It Won’t Help to Vilify People

Part 2 of 2-part Series 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director


California Ag Today conducted an extensive interview with Les Grober, assistant deputy director, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB, Water Board) Division of Water Rights. We published Part 1, “Water Board’s Point of View on Increasing San Joaquin River Flows,” on November 28, 2016.

Grober explained the Water Board’s water diversion plan to adjust the flow objectives on the San Joaquin River to protect fish and wildlife. The plan, specifically, is to divert 40 percent of water flows from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers that flow into the lower San Joaquin River. 

California Ag Today: We asked Mr. Grober to explain how the Federal Water users on the Westside of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted a mere 5 percent allocation this year, and why many did not receive their full 5 percent.

Grober: The 5 percent allocation is due to the junior water rights of those growers and to the interconnections of so many things — priority of right, hydrologic conditions, and minimal protections or fish and wildlife. Anyone who thinks it’s all due to fish is simplifying a very complex situation. 

California Ag Today: Regarding the water hearings that are scheduled over the next few months, is the Water Board trying to give information to farmers and others would be affected by the decreased water should the Water Board’s proposal go through?

Grober: The ultimate goal is to make people even more prepared to provide comments to the Board at the scheduled hearings. It’s part of a public process where, if we did not get our economic figures right, we want [accurate] information from the stakeholder to make it right.

We thought we did a good job in an economic analysis on how we thought the proposed taking of 40 percent water would affect the communities and farmers. We clearly heard from many people who thought we did not do a good job, and my response is: Good, show us why, make a proposal and take it to the Water Board hearings, and then we can adjust it.

California Ag today: The Water Board has a 3,100-page report all about saving the salmon.

Grober: The reason we have a big report is because we are making a proposal and we’ve shown our work. Although it is work for people to look at it and review it, we have tried to make it easy so that people can see if we have made mistakes, if there are things that are left out or if we have made an incorrect assumption. That’s why we’ve shared it with everybody and here’s your opportunity for setting us straight.

It won’t help to vilify different people who are making good use of the water or to vilify or disparage the implementation of our laws and what we are required to do. We have a great process I think, as hard as it is, a public process where we can work these things out in the open, just to use it and deal with each other professionally.  
-Les Grober, assistant deputy director, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB, Water Board) Division of Water Rights


California Ag Today: We are sure you are getting a lot of information from farmers and city leaders about this not being a good use of the water.

Grober: These problems are not so simple that they could be reduced to a sound bite. I think we would have solved the salmon problems by now, but because we are in the drought situation, we are dealing with a precious resource, which is water. Everybody wants the water but there’s not enough to do all the things we would like to do with it. 

California Ag Today: But there are many people in California who feel that more water for fish instead of farmers is reprehensible.

Citrus Tree devastated by drought.

Citrus Tree devastated by drought.

Grober: It won’t help to vilify different people who are making good use of the water or to vilify or disparage the implementation of our laws and what we are required to do. We have a great process I think, as hard as it is, a public process where we can work these things out in the open, just to use it and deal with each other professionally. 

California Ag Today: But we’ve heard from experts that have been studying this, that the increased flows have not really helped these species. Do you have proof that they have?

Grober: It’s hard to show proof one way or the other because recently we have not increased flows to see what effect it would have. That seems to be a notion that is out there, that we have somehow done something to increase flows in recent years, and that’s simply not the case.

If anything, flows have gone down. And in the recent drought years, as I said, even the minimal flows that were required were adjusted downward. You would have to show me that evidence that flows have gone up and there has been no response to those higher flows. I do not believe that there is any.

California Ag Today: So, the Water Board wants 40 percent of unimpaired flows?

Grober: When we say the requirement is 30 percent to 50 percent of unimpaired flows, it is 30 percent to 50 percent of that amount, which means just the opposite. It means that 50 to 70 percent of [flows] for February through June would be available for consumptive use.

That is frequently misunderstood and turned around. That is still from February through June, so it means more than 50 to 70 percent since other times of the year this water is available for consumptive use.

California Ag Today: Is the Water Board looking at the fact that if the water is needed for the species, it is going to force these growers to use more groundwater? That is a direction in which we do not want to go, especially in a region that has not yet had critical overdrafts. How does the Water Board look at that domino effect forced on these growers in order to survive, stay in business and produce the food in this major Ag production region?

Grober: Implementing that 30 to 50 percent of unimpaired flows would mean less surface water available for diversion. So our analysis of the potential environmental effects and overall effects of the program, based on recent drought information and other information, shows we would see increased groundwater pumping.

California Ag Today: Is the increased pumping weighted at all in the proposal, because overdraft groundwater pumping is not sustainable?

Grober: By our analysis, the area is already in overdraft.

California Ag Today: What? Why would there be overdraft pumping in an area that has great irrigation districts such as Modesto and Oakdale Irrigation Districts delivering surface water? We did not think growers in those districts would be overdrafting.

Grober: Sure. Within those irrigation districts themselves, they are not overdrafting. That’s why the analysis we do goes into that level of detail. The irrigation districts that already have a source of surface water actually apply much more water than they need just for the crop, so they are recharging groundwater within those districts, and even with this proposal, would continue to recharge groundwater. It is all those areas outside of those districts that don’t have access to surface water that are pumping groundwater.

California Ag Today: There is a lot more pumping of groundwater on the east side near the foothills.

Grober: Based on the information that we have, the total area — not just the districts that have access to surface water — but the total area, is already overdrafting groundwater. And there are many areas on the east side of these districts now, up into areas that were previously not irrigated, converting now to orchard crops. So with the information we have, there are large areas of production using water from the basin. The entire area is to some extent pumping more groundwater than there is recharge.

California Ag Today: We’ve been concern about this.

Grober: That’s why the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is going to be good, because the local areas are going to have to get on top of that information and on top of the management.

2016-11-30T10:25:24-08:00November 29th, 2016|

Fighting to Protect Family Farms from Water Diversion

In Face of Water Diversion Threat, Ag Industry Experts are Speaking Out

By Laurie Greene, Editor


California Ag Today has been reporting on the California State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) proposed plan to divert 40 percent of the surface water from the Tuolumne River and two additional tributaries of the San Joaquin River between February 1st and June 30th every year. The SWRCB plan is designed to increase flows in the Delta in an effort to help the declining smelt and salmon populations. Yet, these water diversions would severely impact not only the farm industry, but communities in the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts as well.

Michael Boccadoro, president of West Coast Advisors

Michael Boccadoro, president of West Coast Advisors

Ag officials say this is yet another threat to family farms in an attempt to protect the smelt and salmon. Farmers would lose a major portion of their surface water and be forced to pump more groundwater.

“Farming is not just a job; it’s a way of life for many of these families. And that livelihood, that way of life, is being threatened,” said Michael Boccadoro, president of West Coast Advisors, an independent, nonpartisan public affairs and advocacy firm that specializes in complex and often controversial public issues in Sacramento.

Boccadoro said the farm industry in the region is not sitting still while all of this is happening. There is a website,, that addresses this new assault on agriculture.

worthyourfight-logo Water Diversion

“It is worth fighting for,”said Boccadoro. “I was born and raised in agriculture, and I still think it’s a wonderful lifestyle. We need to protect it at all costs. This is starting to border on the ridiculous in terms of just one issue after another. . .  This is not a “Mother Nature” issue; this is government putting these obstacles and these problems in front of agriculture, and that’s troubling.”

“We produce much of the fruits and vegetables and nearly all the nut crops for the entire nation. So, of course, we would expect to see significant amounts of water being used by farming in California,” Boccadoro said.

“It’s just reality, and for whatever reason, I think people have been misled and don’t understand this is just part of growing food. Like I have said, if you are concerned about it, all you’ve got to do is quit eating. It’s that simple.”


California State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB)

West Coast Advisors

2016-11-22T22:11:51-08:00November 22nd, 2016|

Another Record Season for Walnuts

Walnut Yield Could Continue to Increase Over Next Few Years

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

October was the peak of harvest for the state’s biggest tree nut crops: almonds, pistachios and walnuts. California growers have completed this year’s walnut harvest, and so far growers are pleased with the yields. Final statistics for California walnut production in 2016 will not be available until mid- to late-January 2017.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)’s 2015 estimate of 365 thousand walnut acres in California (of which 300 thousand were bearing acres), represents a 50 percent increase versus a decade ago, according to Dennis Balint. Balint, who just retired as longtime executive director of the Folsom-based California Walnut Board and CEO of the California Walnut Commission since 1995, became the new special assistant to the California Walnut Board on November 1, 2016.

Dennis-Balint, California Walnuts

Dennis-Balint, California Walnuts

Growers had a record walnut harvest last year, and this year looks even more promising. “This year’s crop estimate from USDA’s California Agricultural Statistic Service (CASS) is 670 thousand tons, an 11 percent increase over last year’s 603,000 tons. 

The NASS office in Sacramento, as relayed by Balint, reported this year’s walnut season began with a significant amount of winter moisture, along with an ample amount of chilling hours and average weather conditions during walnut bloom.  Springtime rain concerned some growers because of the increased chances of blight and any resulting damage is under assessment.

While overall weather conditions were advantageous for growers, results were varied. “If you’re in Reading or Modesto, or Visalia, different factors affected you: climates, your own horticultural practices, what varieties you’re growing, etc.,” said Balint.

The estimate of this year’s harvest is good news for growers who, not many years ago, were fortunate to harvest merely 300,000 tons. Even with the estimated record harvest, there are still close to 80,000 acres of younger, nonbearing walnut trees in the state. Balint commented, “As those acres mature and come into production over the next few years—all things being equal—California’s walnut harvest could potentially increase by another 30 to 40 thousand tons per year.”

california-walnut-boardBalint also reported the Walnut Board has four tests in the grocery marketplace to determine how to increase stores’ holiday inventory of walnuts. [EDITOR’S NOTE: For fans of inshell walnuts, buy your supply early and often. Inventory of inshell walnuts is not expected to extend beyond the holidays.]

As of November 1, 2016, board members of the California Walnut Industry appointed Michelle Mcneil Connelly, former senior marketing director, as executive director of the California Walnut Board and as CEO of the California Walnut Commission.


The California Walnut Board was established in 1948 to represent the walnut growers and handlers of California. The Board is funded by mandatory assessments of the handlers. The California Walnut Commission, established in 1987, is funded by mandatory assessments of the growers.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service California Field Office is operated in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

2016-11-17T13:33:58-08:00November 16th, 2016|
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