Water Diversion Lessons from Australia

Australian Water Woes: Water Diversion Will Not Save Fish

 

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, spoke to the CDFA Board of Directors about the State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed strategy of diverting up to 40 percent of the Tuolumne River flows to increase flows in the Delta for salmon and smelt. The diversion would severely impact farm and city water needs in both the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) and Oakdale Irrigation District (OID).

 

“Despite increased [water] flows over the years, the fish populations continue to decline in the Delta,” Wade said. “We have exacerbated this problem. We have released water with the intent going back to 2008 and 2009 [scenarios] and even before, if you want to turn the clock back to 1992, and yet we’re still seeing population crashes.”

 

“The science is showing that fish are not recovering. Yet, the California Department of Water Resources is doubling down on the same kind of activity—the same strategy—that hasn’t worked in the past and that we do not expect to work moving forward,” he said.

 

Mike Wade
Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

 

“That is why schools, health departments, farmers, Latinos, economic development departments have opposed the regulation. A host of folks have come out and commented, written letters, and expressed their opinion on the plan because of the severe economic issues they are going to deal with at the 40% impaired flow level.”

 

Wade noted that in recent years, a lot of attention has focused on Australia and how great they are at water management. People commend their effectiveness in changing their water rights system and supposedly improving their ecosystem—or having a plan to work on their ecosystem issues. “In 2009, the vast agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin Authority established a flow amount, or a quantity, for environmental water that was around 2.2 million acre-feet. That is out of around 26.4 million acre-feet of average annual flow in the Murray-Darling Basin,” Wade said.

 

“To set the stage, the Murray-Darling Basin is in eastern Australia. It extends in the north around 800 miles from Gold Coast and the border of Queensland all the way south to Melbourne,” Wade said. “It is actually a geographic area about the size of California and remarkably has a very similar quantity of water to serve its farmers. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority set a 2.2 million acre-foot environmental water buyback for the environment, like we are talking about here.”

 

Wade conveyed to the CDFA Board what his friends in Australia were telling him. “I was there for two weeks in August following up on a trip I took in 2012 to learn about their water supply issues and how they deal with it. My friends are telling me, ‘Don’t do what we do. It has been a disaster,’” Wade said.

 

“The environmental sector hasn’t even achieved their full environmental buyback goal, and they’re already seeing 35% unemployment in some towns. It is directly related to the water buybacks, the declining amount of irrigation water, and the declining agriculture economy because of the change in focus on how they deliver and use water in Australia,” he said.

 

“Three weeks ago—this is how recent these things are coming about and how they’re changing—a good friend of mine, Michael Murray, Cotton Australia general manager, said the ‘Just Add Water’ approach already in place doesn’t work in the Northern Basin. It has to be abandoned. And recently, Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia, Inc. of Australia President Jeremy Morton said, ‘The over-recovery of water has resulted in unnecessary economic harm to communities. It’s a case of maximum pain with minimum gain.'”

 

“A dozen organizations are suggesting this isn’t just a, ‘Don’t do it’ and ‘Abandon the environmental water buybacks.’ What they’re suggesting is the exact same thing that TID and OID are going to experience. Australia’s problems in the Murray-Darling Basin are, remarkably, invasive species, the loss of habitat, and some of the water quality issues that we deal with. It’s the same story, only they are a few years ahead of us,” Wade said.

 

“What has happened in Australia is going to happen to us in the Valley, with big unemployment issues and the closed businesses,” Wade said. “I walked down the main street in the town of Helston and half of the businesses—I’m not exaggeratinghalf of the businesses were boarded up and closed. Only small businesses were still open, such as a convenience store, a bar and a tailor. All the rest were gone.”

 

Wade asked CDFA Secretary Karen Ross to extend the comment period for the Water Board’s proposal. “We all need to have an opportunity to bring some of these issues to light and to support what’s going on in the agriculture community. We must support the need for comprehensive economic studies, either bringing out the ones that have been done or doing some more. We have more economic data will show there is an economic hit that’s deeper, much deeper, that what is proposed or suggested in the plan.”

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TPP Must Pass

Kent Bacus: Congress Must Pass TPP To Help All Ag Exports

 

By Brian German, Associate Editor

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has the potential to increase demand for U.S. food products among 500 million consumers in 11 Pacific Rim countries that are included in the partnership. Many of those ag products are from California, including beef.

NCBA LogoKent Bacus, director, International Trade and Market Access for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), said, “First and foremost, Congress needs to hear more from the people back home and they certainly need to hear from the business community.

Recently, we sent a letter to Capitol Hill urging a vote this year on TPP, that was signed by 225 agricultural associations and companies from all across the United States, from cows to cranberries,” stated Bacus. “We had a very diverse group of people on that letter. But, by and large, it really says, ‘It’s time to move. It’s time to stop finger-pointing. Its time to put our differences aside, and its time to move forward with TPP.’”

Kent Bacus, Director of International Trade for NCBA
Kent Bacus, Director of International Trade for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA)

Bacus said passing TPP will greatly help California farmers and ranchers. “Unfortunately,” he explained, “we have a 38.5 percent tariff on our beef that goes into the Japanese market. TPP levels the playing field for us with our leading competitors for those Japanese consumers. Without that, we’re going to see our market share continue to drop in our leading export market. The benefits of this trade agreement far outweigh the status quo,” he said.

Noting opposition from both the right and the left, Bacus  stated, “Politically this is an easy target to swing at because not a lot of people understand trade. So it’s important for us to tell the positive stories of trade, and for the beef industry, it is simple: Americans aren’t willing to pay a premium for cuts like the beef tongue or short ribs, much like our Japanese consumers will,” he said.

One key component of the TPP is the reduction in tariffs and other market barriers. Failing to get the agreement passed would essentially give other nations a competitive advantage in the international market. “In 2015 we sold $1.3 billion dollars worth of beef to the Japanese,” Bacus said. “But that was down nearly $300 million dollars from 2014 because our leading competitors, the Australians, had a trade agreement that went into effect giving them a 10+ percent tariff rate advantage over us into our leading export market.”

“So unless we want to level that playing field—if we are fine with the status quo,” Bacus said—then we’re going to lose that market. And we’re going to lose a lot of the value added that the market brings back to cow-calf producers and feeders, and everyone along the production chain.”

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The Peril of Smoke Taint on Winegrapes

Wildfires Threaten Smoke Taint on Winegrapes

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

There are at least two dozen major fires burning in the wilderness of California. Many are now contained, while others are only minimally contained. One recent serious fire, known as the “Rocky Fire” in Lake, Yolo, and Colusa counties burned nearly 70,000 acres before firefighters extinguished it last month.

But smoke from that fire may yet cause problems for the wine grape industry in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties. James Kennedy, chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology and director of the Viticulture and Enology Research Center at California State University Fresno, explained the threat of smoke taint on winegrapes. “Anytime you have wildfires near vineyards,” Kennedy said, “there is a concern about how that smoke might become associated with grapes, and as a result, become associated with wine.”

Kennedy said they learned a lot about this problem from the Australian wildfires in 2003 that tainted their wine. Kennedy explained,“grape growers are oftentimes not aware of the extent to which smoke can damage fruit. In a sense, it is a two-edged sword. When wine is made from smoke-tainted grapes, it will have characteristics reminiscent of ‘the morning-after ashtray’ that is quite obnoxious and certainly not desirable. The other side of the sword occurs when smoke compounds interact with the grapevine and grape berries, it is modified by the grapes. Like an iceberg in the ocean, the ice above the water suffers the apparent smoke taint; whereas, the massive chunk underneath the ocean, though not initially as obviously smoke-tainted, reveals obvious taint over time.”

Kennedy said, “Winemakers in Australia realized that while you can treat that initial smoke taint, you don’t resolve the long-term taint problem. We, as an industry, are trying to identify vineyards with smoke taint problems before their fruit is made into wine. By testing grapes in laboratories, we are trying to prevent those wineries from wasting significant investment in converting tainted fruit into tainted wine.”

The Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association reported on its website yesterday, “So far no vineyards or wineries in Napa County have been threatened by any of this season’s wildfires. Most of the time the fires were burning, the smoke blew away from Napa County due to the typically prevailing winds from the southwest. The weekend of August 15/16, we did experience very hot temperatures and a wind shift that caused our air to be hazy and smoky as a result of the many fires burning throughout CA. However, there were no reports of smoke taint affecting Napa Valley wine grapes as a result.”

“Most reports on smoke taint indicate that it exists only after an extended period of close contact with smoke; conditions that have not, to our knowledge, existed within Napa Valley this summer. Furthermore, Napa Valley is known for the highest standards of fine wine production and our winemakers will be paying very close attention to this situation as they harvest grapes for the 2015 vintage.”

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