GROUNDBREAKING RESEARCH INTO WORKING LANDSCAPES

Protecting California rangeland provides $1 billion in ecosystem services annually, according to new study

(SACRAMENTO) – Working lands conservation by California’s largest land trust annually provides between $900 million to $1.44 billion in environmental benefits — including habitat, carbon sequestration, food and watersheds, according to a new study released today.

The study, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, examined 306,718 acres of California Rangeland Trust’s conservation easements across the state to explore both the environmental and monetary value of preserving California’s open spaces.

“This study demonstrates the importance of caring for and stewarding California’s land, so that it can serve our communities in return,” said California Rangeland Trust CEO Michael Delbar. “Conserving the state’s open spaces and rangelands isn’t just about ranching. It’s about investing in environmental services that will benefit Californians now and into the future.”

Employing a comprehensive literature review of ecosystem services and a global average of the monetary value of environmental services per acre, the study reports conservation easements—an agreement between a landowner and a qualified land trust regarding the future uses of private property—return up to $3.47 for every dollar invested under current zoning requirements, further emphasizing the long-term benefits of land conservation.

“Our research found there is immense economic value in ecosystem services provided to society through rangeland conservation,” said Lynn Huntsinger, professor of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley. “The study further underscores how protecting California’s working landscapes provides us with food, clean water, fire protection and many more vital benefits.”

Since 1984, more than 1.4 million acres of land in California have been converted from agricultural to other uses—78 percent of which has been lost to urban development.

The study’s findings estimate that conservation efforts by California Rangeland Trust provide ecosystem services valued at more than $236 million in food and $13.9 million in water annually. Similarly, California Rangeland Trust’s conservation supports $250.6 million in the maintenance of biodiversity, nearly $100 million in habitat lifecycle production, and $28.5 million in recreation opportunities annually to the state.

“The data is clear – conserving rangeland is a smart investment as Californians look for ways to protect our environment,” said Delbar.

Using conservation easements as a tool, the California Rangeland Trust seeks to balance against the demands of urban and land use planning and ensure local food, water, and habitat security in communities across the state.

The California Rangeland Trust is an organization by and for ranchers committed to preserving California’s open spaces and supporting cleaner, healthier communities for Californians. The Trust has permanently protected more than 340,000 acres of land in California since 1998 through conservation easements.

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The California Rangeland Trust, a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation, was created to conserve the open space, natural habitat and stewardship provided by California’s ranches. To date, the Rangeland Trust has protected more than 342,815 Acres of productive grazing lands across the state through the use of conservation easements. For more information, visit www.rangelandtrust.org.

2021-05-12T11:17:06-07:00August 4th, 2020|

Should Farmers Meter Their Wells Now for SGMA?

Prepping for SGMA Regulations

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

With the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is closing in on growers throughout California, there are many questions. One big one: should growers go ahead and put a meter on their pumps?

Helping the farming industry comply with SGMA, is Chris Johnson owner of Aegis Groundwater Consulting located in Fresno. He recommends that growers put flow meters on their wells. But he does understand the hesitation.
It’s pretty straightforward. Instrument your wells, and monitor them, including water levels, flow rates, electrical use. It’s good for growers to be able to manage wells as assets

Johnson thinks growers are afraid to put flow meters on their wells. They believe it may provide a mechanism where someone can measure, record, and evaluate how much water they’re using, that’s going to go against them. “And the reality of it is that somebody might very well do that, but they’re better off knowing that going in. They’re better off understanding and being able to manage and represent for themselves upfront.

And while the local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies have created the Groundwater Sustainability Plans, Johnson noted that the GSPs are the deliverable that the groundwater sustainability agencies are tasked with.

“But we need to understand that the lack of data that we have to work with and be able to make decisions. And as a consequence, what so many different GSAs are forced to do is to either accept existing data at face value, or they have to interpret what the data might be in the absence of actual functional information,” noted Johnson. And so, it may very well misrepresent what the basin as a whole has to go through, and regulators may put restrictions on farmers and growers based on that. That’s where having your data helps you defend and protect yourself.

2020-06-29T08:42:40-07:00June 29th, 2020|

Governor Newsom Gets Letter from Congress

Statement on Congressional Letter to Governor Newsom on Incidental Take Permit

Earlier this week, Members of Congress representing nearly every region of California sent to Governor Gavin Newsom a letter imploring the State administration to reconsider the incidental take statement issued on March 31, 2020, by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife for operations of the State Water Project.
Dan Errotabere, President of Westlands Water District, made the following statement in reaction to the Members’ letter:
“On November 21, 2019, when the State of California announced it would sue the federal government challenging the adequacy of biological opinions issued under the federal Endangered Species Act for operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, the State proclaimed that its plan to protect species listed under the California Endangered Species Act would “not seek to increase SWP exports.” 
In their letter, Members of Congress correctly point out that “actions taken to protect both State and Federally listed species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and surrounding ecosystem must be based on the best science,” not an arbitrary cap on levels of export. 
The Members also observed correctly that conflicting operations criteria imposed under the federal biological opinions and the State incidental take permit will frustrate coordinated operations of the CVP and SWP, will lead to new conflicts, and will make it impossible finalize Voluntary Agreements. Westlands hopes Governor Newsom will respond to the Members’ request positively so that we can work collaboratively to ensure the State’s long-term water resilience and ecosystem health. The District appreciates the Members weighing in on this important issue.”
A copy of the Members’ April 7, 2020, letter to Governor Newsom can be found here.
2020-04-07T21:01:07-07:00April 8th, 2020|

More Surface Water For Farmers

The Need for More Water South of the Delta

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

With the initial allocation of only 15% on the federal side for water deliveries for farmers, it’s more important now that more water come through the Delta instead of being needlessly sent to the ocean.

Michael Frantz who owns Frantz Wholesale Nursery, along with his brother in the town of Hickman (Stanislaus County). He also sits on the board of the Turlock irrigation district, which delivers water to thousands of acres of almonds and walnuts.

“Increasing flows South through those Delta pumps. So critical this year. Clearly we need to be able to export as much water out of the Delta as we can environmentally and scientifically do, is a net win for all the people in California,” said Frantz.

“I’m sensitive to the Delta farmers who need to see Delta outflow to keep the salinity from building up in their channels. I recognize that’s a concern of theirs, but the reality is this state allows millions, tens of millions of acre-feet on some water years to escape out to sea,” said Frantz. “Those pumps should be turning at full speed, pushing water down into the South Valley where it could be applied on farms and allowed to percolate down into the aquifer and help recharge and rebuild a healthy aquifer.”

 

2020-03-17T21:52:48-07:00March 17th, 2020|

Feds Initial Allocation is only 15 Percent

Westlands Water District Statement on 2020 Initial Allocation

 

Today the Bureau of Reclamation announced that the initial 2020 allocation for south-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) agricultural water service contractors is 15%. Needless to say, Westlands Water District wishes it were higher, and the District is confident that Reclamation would have provided a higher allocation if existing conditions would have allowed it.

It is likely many people will question a 15% initial allocation considering President Donald J. Trump’s recent remarks concerning new biological opinions issued for coordinated operations of the CVP and State Water Project (SWP). Without question, those new biological opinions restore operational flexibility to the CVP and SWP, while at the same time providing more protection for listed species.

Indeed, if those biological opinions had been in effect in 2019, the projects would have been able to conserve more than an additional one-million acre-feet of water. That is enough water to irrigate 300,000 acres of land or serve more than 2 million households in urban areas served by the CVP and SWP. However, 2019 was a wet year, and unless California begins to experience significantly more precipitation, both in the form of rain and snow, 2020 will ultimately be classified as a dry or critical year. Even with the new biological opinions, Reclamation cannot allocate water that its operations forecast indicates will not be available.

Despite the lack of precipitation, it should be noted that the new biological opinions have benefited farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. The 2020 water year is shaping up to be very similar to 2009, a critically dry year. In 2009, south-of-Delta CVP agricultural water service contractors received a 10% allocation, and that allocation did not come until April. Comparatively speaking, a 15% allocation in February is good news.

Westlands staff will continue to work with Reclamation and other CVP contractors to analyze hydrologic and environmental conditions in hopes the allocation can be increased as early as practicable.


Statement by California Farm Water Coalition Executive Director Mike Wade  
on the Initial Allocation Announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation

“Today’s announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation of a 15 percent initial allocation for water supplies south of the Delta is clearly the result of the dry hydrology California is experiencing. February is shaping up to be possibly the first time in recorded history without any measurable precipitation. That alone is evidence that California may be on the leading edge of another drought.

“These dry conditions are similar to what we saw in 2009. For months farmers were not given an allocation amount and told they may get zero water. In April of that year, well past the time to make effective planting decisions, the allocation was set at 10 percent.

“The new biological opinions implemented last week are already making a difference by allocating 15 percent in February. We’re obviously hopeful that allocations will rise, but we’re pleased to be off to a better start than we were under the old operating rules.

“Had the new biological opinions been in place last year we believe an additional 1 million acre-feet of water could have been stored for use this year, delivering more water and offering better species protection, based on what we’ve learned over the past 10 years studying the Delta and its tributaries.

“That kind of operational flexibility is essential for California to remain the nation’s leading farm state and to continue to produce more than half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S. as well as vast amounts of dairy, beef and nursery products.”

 

2020-02-25T12:41:26-08:00February 25th, 2020|

List of SGMA GSAs and GSPs

 

SGMA Update

GSAs Must Develop GSPs

By Don Wright, California Ag Today Contributor

SGMA uses Department of Water Resources Bulletin 118 to define basins and sub basins and assign them numbers. The San Joaquin Valley Basin is number 5-22. Within it are sub basins with their numbers following a decimal. Each sub basin one Groundwater Sustainability Agency or several, but DWR will only recognize one representative GSA per sub basin. Each GSA must develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan on its own or as a contribution to an overarching GSP as again, DWR will only deal with one GSP per sub basin.

SGMA

Don Wright

Many of the sub basins with multiple GSAs are combining each of the GSAs’ GSPs into one overarching GSP. Most of the GSAs have released public drafts of their GSPs for review and comment. The following is a list of GSP links. When possible the links go directly to the GSP but many of the links take you to a page that has additional links to the GSPs. Some of them I haven’t found.

Merced Sub Basin 5-22.04

The Merced Sub Basin has formed three Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs): the Merced Irrigation-Urban Groundwater Sustainability Agency, the Merced Sub Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, and the Turner Island Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

GSP https://www.mercedsgma.org/assets/pdf/gsp-sections/Merced-Subbasin-GSP-Draft-Report-Executive-Summary_2019-07-30.pdf

 

Chowchilla Sub Basin 5-22.05

The Chowchilla Sub Basin has four GSAs: Chowchilla WD, Triangle T WD, Madera County and Merced County

GSP https://www.maderacountywater.com/chowchilla-subbasin/

 

Madera Sub Basin 5-22.06

The Madera Sub Basin has seven GSAs: Madera County GSA, City of Madera GSA, Madera Irrigation District, Root Creek Water District, Madera Water District, Gravelly Ford Water District, New Stone Water District.

GSP https://www.maderacountywater.com/madera-subbasin/

 

Delta Mendota Sub Basin 5-22.07

The Delta Mendota Sub Basin has 24 GSAs: the Counties of Merced, Madera and Fresno, the Cities of Dos Palos, Firebaugh, Gustine, Los Banos, Mendota, Newman and Patterson, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority, Turner Island WD, Ora Loma WD, DM-II, Northwestern Delta Mendota, Patterson ID, West Stanislaus ID, Widren WD, Central Delta Mendota Regional Multi-Agency, Farmers WD, Aliso WD and Grasslands.

GSP http://deltamendota.org

 

Kings River Sub Basin 5-22.08

The Kings River Sub Basin has seven GSAs: James ID, North Kings, McMullin Area, Kings River East, Central Kings, North Fork Kings and South Kings.

GSP

North Kings https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CgjQ4-oY3AVaKXOexcJnyi3gaVhk5DPM/view

 

Westside Sub Basin 5-22.09

The Westside Sub Basin has one GSA: Westlands WD

https://wwd.ca.gov/draft-gsp/

 

Kaweah River Sub Basin 5-22.11

The Kaweah River Sub Basin has three GSAs: Eastern Kaweah, Mid Kaweah and Greater Kaweah.

GSP East Kaweah

https://ppeng.sharefile.com/share/view/sd08385c0b564a85a/fo4153c4-8351-4fc2-ae23-87be2dbeb1f0

Mid Kaweah https://www.midkaweah.org/documents

Greater Kaweah http://greaterkaweahgsa.org/resources/groundwater-sustainability-plan/

 

Tulare Lake Sub Basin 5-22.12

The Tulare Lake Sub Basin has seven GSAs; South Fork Kings, Mid Kings, Alpaugh ID, El Rico, Mid Kings River, South Fork Kings and Tri County WA

https://southforkkings.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2019-0906-tulare-lake-subbasin-gsp-prelim-draft_for-upload.pdf

 

Tule River Sub Basin 5-22.13

The Tule River Sub Basin has six GSAs: Alpaugh, Delano-Earlimart, Lower Tule River, Pixley, Eastern Tule and Tri-County

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1P1M5tayhYI0Jc0-8Tm1o832nQ8WBBibj

 

Kern Sub Basin 5-022.14

The Kern Sub Basin went from two GSAs to 11 since SGMA began.

Kern River http://www.kernrivergsa.org/?page_id=966

Buena Vista WSD http://bvh2o.com/BVGSA-GSP-DRAFT.pdf

Kern Groundwater Authority http://www.kerngwa.com/gsp.html

Semitropic WSD

Olcese WD https://olcesewaterdistrict.org/sgma/West Kern WD

 

Arvin Edison WSD http://www.aewsd.org/

Tejon Castaic WD

Wheeler Ridge Maricopa WD

 

2019-11-01T16:36:48-07:00November 5th, 2019|

Any New Biological Opinions Will Get Review by CA Congress Reps

California Members Release Statement on Updated Biological Opinions for Central Valley Project

WASHINGTON, DC – Representatives Josh Harder (CA-10), John Garamendi (CA-03), Jim Costa (CA-16), and TJ Cox (CA-21) and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released the following statement on the updated biological opinions for federally protected fish species and coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project:

“The Endangered Species Act requires periodic reviews to determine the best available science. The federal government’s science for Chinook salmon and Delta smelt was more than a decade old and needed to be updated, especially given climate change.

“We are examining the new biological opinions to ensure they incorporate the adaptive management and real-time monitoring needed to properly manage the Central Valley Project for the benefit of all Californians. The new biological opinions must also provide the scientific basis needed to finalize the voluntary settlement agreements between the State Water Resources Control Board and water users.

“We look forward to the State of California’s thoughtful analysis of the biological opinions. In Congress, we continue working to secure federal investment in the Central Valley Project to meet California’s future water needs and support habitat restoration efforts called for in the updated biological opinions.”

 

2021-05-12T11:05:01-07:00October 24th, 2019|

New Water Year Brings Surplus!

Surplus for New Water Year Will Help Farmers in 2020

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

The Oct. 1 new water year, has brought the state a surplus— with statewide reservoir storage 128% of average.

“The wet 2017 was needed for our reservoirs to refill after an extended drought, and we’re hopeful that the upcoming water year will be generous,” said Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition based in Sacramento.

The coalition educates consumers and others in the state about the importance of water for farms

“One of the things that we’re concerned about is allocations that have not seemed to keep up with the water supply, but we do understand there’s some question about environmental practices and enough water held over for stream flows, and those questions are something that we’ll have to contend with in the future,” said Wade.

With the carryover water that we have, we know that we’ll be in better shape going into this coming year than we have in some years in the past. But one of the things that are going to be helpful is if the Governor’s voluntary agreements get implemented regarding the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Plan on the Tuolumne River. “We have more reliability and understanding about how water is going to be used from year to year and how much will be available for water supply reliability, as well as the important environmental projects that are going on around the state,” he said.

“In December 2018, when the state Water Board adopted their Unimpaired Flow Plan, there was a lot of concern that that was going to take a lot of water. It would have taken a million or 2 million acre-feet of water potentially out of the available water that we have from year to year,” said Wade.

“The voluntary agreements represent a generational change in how we manage water and environmental projects in the state. I will provide more local control, more input from water users, and the ability to build the kinds of projects and do the kinds of stream restoration that not only help restore our ecosystem, but it makes water supply more reliable for farms, homes, and businesses around the state,” he said.

 

2019-10-10T19:42:02-07:00October 14th, 2019|

Seeking a Better Understanding Regarding Cannabis Production

Survey Helps UC  Understand Cannabis Production Challenges in State

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Results from a UC Cooperative Extension survey of registered and unregistered marijuana (cannabis) growers in California will help researchers, policy makers and the public better understand growing practices since cannabis sales, possession and cultivation first became legal for recreational use.

“This survey is a starting point from which UC scientists could build research and extension programs, if possible in the future,” said lead author Houston Wilson, UCCE specialist with UC Riverside. A report on the survey results was published in the July-December 2019 issue of California Agriculture journal, the research publication of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Houston Wilson, UC Riverside Entomologist

The idea of the online survey, during the summer of 2018, was to characterize broadly the production practices that were being employed,” said Wilson

Wilson noted that since he is an entomologist, there were certainly questions about pest management, so the survey was more broad. “It included questions about style of production, plant density, harvest frequency, water use, diseases, and even labor and licensing,” Wilson said.

The survey was conducted by a collaborative group of scientists. Project co-authors were UC Berkeley visiting scholar Hekia Bodwitch, Nature Conservancy senior scientist Jennifer Carah, UCCE biocontrol specialist Kent Daane, UCCE natural resources specialist Christy Getz, UCCE climate and water specialist Theodore Grantham and UCCE land use science specialist Van Butsic. Daane, Getz, Grantham and Van Butsic are affiliated with UC Berkeley.

The survey went to numerous growers via large grower organizations that are present in California. There were more than 100 respondents, and the researchers were able to use that data to characterize some of the production practices.

“As an entomologist, I was interested in the pest management aspects, and we got a kind of array of different insects that growers are dealing with and how they’re dealing with it,” said Wilson.

UC is Restricted To Help Cannabis Growers

The big limitation that’s on the university right now is it’s ability to actually physically visit farms, and talk to growers, and collect insects and sample plant materials. It’s not legal for research institution because of the federal support that the university receives. “So a remote online survey, was the best approach that we found to do this, at least at this stage,” said Wilson.

We’ve shown the data to the grower groups that we’re in contact with, and for the most part they’ve agreed that that it matches what they’re seeing. “We don’t think it’s a really skewed dataset, but we certainly need more detail in each of those areas of emphasis,” said Wilson. “What I’d like to do now is figure out a way to actually collect insects from some of these cannabis operations to confirm or deny the pest species that were indicated by the survey.”

One way to do that is find some opportunities with grower collaborators to have them collect the insects themselves and then bring that back to researchers. “We’re allowed to handle the insects, but we certainly can’t have any plant material on campus right now,” Wilson said.

“Like any cropping system you’re going to have insect problems. Generally speaking, cannabis production takes place indoor and outdoor, and those are in and of themselves going to have different pest complexes and different management options available to them,” noted Wilson. “But again, this similarly applies to other crops that are grown in or outdoors. So there’s kind of gray literature or white literature, whatever you want to call it, about cannabis production and pest management in particular.”

There is cannabis production information in books and online forums that have been published by non-university personnel. “There’s some good information, and there’s a lot of misinformation. However many of these growers have a lot of experience as they they’ve been growing, in some of these areas, for over 40 years,” Wilson said.

Ironically, cannabis is seen as new crop for university researchers, as if it’s a new type of apple. “So in that regard, we’re just trying to characterize how the crop is produced, and find out what are some of the basic agronomic features of it, what are the pest pressures, and how would you manage that,” said Wilson.

“The fact that it’s been this underground production model for so long is that when we come into the situation, and in my interactions with growers to date, I immediately acknowledge that I understand that they have a lot of experience with this crop. And I think these growers have a lot of knowledge about agronomic features, including the entomology aspects of it,” said Wilson.

As for the future UC work in the cannabis world—it’s to be determined.It certainly a secondary if not tertiary objective for me, he said.I work in perennial orchards and vineyard, so cannabis is very much outside what I am focused on, he said.But there was an opportunity to do a survey and so we did it.

The article in the UC California Agriculture journal is comprehensive look at who is doing what in the state right now with cannabis production. “Our production survey was certainly front and center in there as a background piece. And there were other articles that were getting into a specific issue with labor, or licensing, or other areas. Water use is a huge issue, as it is with any crop in California,” said Wilson.

Wilson noted that if cannabis were to become legal at the federal level, you might envision a future where UC creates a position that includes cannabis or is even specifically focused on that in terms of agronomic issues.

Highlights of Survey Findings

  • Growing outdoors in open air with sunlight was the most common practice (41%). Twenty-five percent of growers combined outdoor and greenhouse production. Just 10% said they grow the crop entirely within greenhouses.
  • Total yield per plant varied by growing location. Outdoor crops yielded on average 2.51 pounds per plant (about 40 ounces per plant), greenhouse crops yielded about 10 ounces per plant, while plants grown indoors with artificial light averaged about 3 ounces per plant.
  • The average growing season for outdoor growers was 190 days and they harvested one crop per year.
  • In the fall of 2017, the average cannabis sales price was $853 per pound for flowers and $78 per pound for leaves and other non-flower parts.
  • The respondents reported using no synthetic pesticides in their cultivation of the crop, suggesting reliance on organic pesticides, biologicals and biocontrol.
  • Most growers reported that groundwater was their primary water source for irrigation. Of those, 97% of the water extraction happened from June to October. Many growers said adding water storage was either cost prohibitive or limited by regulatory constraints.
  • Growers reported using more than 30 different soil amendments and foliar nutrient sprays. The most common was organic fertilizer, followed by composts and various animal manures and meals, compost tea and worm castings.
  • Growers are dealing with 14 different insect pests, 13 diseases and nine vertebrate pests, including gophers, mice, rats, deer and wild boars.
  • Powdery mildew was the most commonly reported disease, and mites, thrips and aphids were the most commonly reported insect pests.
  • Growers who hired laborers for harvest paid a per-pound piece rate from $50 to $200. The growers who hired seasonal hourly workers offered a starting pay of $15 to $20 per hour.

2021-05-12T11:01:46-07:00October 7th, 2019|

Raising Shasta Dam Hit’s Snag

Termination of Shasta Dam Raise CEQA Analysis

Westlands Water District terminated its preparation of an environmental impact report pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The District was preparing the environmental impact report to assess the effects of raising Shasta Dam, as proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation, including whether the Dam raise would adversely affect the free-flowing conditions of the McCloud River or its wild trout fishery.

Under federal law, if Reclamation determines to raise the Dam, local cost share partners would be responsible for at least half of the costs. The environmental impact report being prepared by the District would have provided the information necessary for the District to determine whether it could or would become a cost share partner. The District terminated the CEQA process because the Superior Court issued, at the request of the California Attorney General, a preliminary injunction that stopped the District from preparing the environmental review document until after the Court conducts a trial and issues a final decision in the case. The practical effect of the injunction is that the District would not likely be able to complete CEQA within the schedule Reclamation has for the project.

Tom Birmingham, the District’s general manager expressed his disappointment in this outcome: “no agency of the State has conducted a project-specific analysis of Reclamation’s proposal, to determine if enlargement of Shasta Dam would adversely affect aquatic resources – particularly those in the lower McCloud River. Westlands took the initiative to do that assessment, through the public process established by CEQA. It is unfortunate that, as a result of the actions of the Attorney General, Westlands was enjoined from completing that analysis.”  

2019-10-01T10:35:33-07:00October 1st, 2019|
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