Weather Pattern in California Could Hurt Citrus, Predictions Say
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Some meteorologists are seeing evidence of weather data on the North Pole that could point to more rain and snow this winter. However it could come with several freeze events, which could hurt crops, especially citrus.
The Global Forecast Center is a group of meteorologists in Northern Idaho that conducts weather forecasting for agricultural interests throughout Florida, California and portions of Texas. In fact, they work closely with California Citrus Mutual.
Tom Dunklee, president and chief atmospheric scientist, Global Forecast Center and its associated “WeatherWatch” service, said, “What we see in our frost outlook is a cold year coming up and a bit of an increase in rainfall, which will make everybody happy. But we may have to pay the price with some very cold temperatures following these fronts.”
“The rains may be more frequent, but they will not be real big rain producers. They won’t be like El Niño years, where you get an inch and a half of rain or more. They will be cold, wet weather systems that come through, one half inch of rain at a time, followed by a possibility of frost,” Dunklee said.
Dunklee predicts the rain events may be followed by some dry weather for three or four days, then by another front coming through, doing the same thing. “What we are seeing is the type of weather pattern we saw in the late 1960s. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had one of these years shape up,” he said.
“I don’t think we are going to have a “Miracle March.” Instead, we are going to have a warm and drier than average spring. Most of the moisture is going to come in December, January and February, comprising those frequent frontal systems. Most of them will be followed by cool air and showery weather. Then the weather will dry out for three or four days, and the wet weather will return.”
Dunklee spoke of the intrusions of the cold arctic air that could arrive. “We think the intrusions will be from the North and Northeast—from Montana coming down through Nevada, then through the San Joaquin river drainage bringing quite a bit of cold air filtering into the [Central] Valley, and we’ll get the possibility of a hard frost, and maybe a freeze sometime in late December,” Dunklee said.
Dunklee also spoke about an increase in snowpack. “At the 7,000 foot level this year we may see higher than average, about 120% to 130% of average snow fall. It will be on the average of about six or seven feet. It may not actually get that deep at one time, but the potential is there for that,” he said.
“Most of the time it’s going to be about two, three feet of snowfall during the real cold months. Then in the spring it will melt fairly quickly, but it potentially is going to be a good snow pack, a little bit higher than average,” Dunklee said.
VIDEO: Wasted Freshwater in Failed Attempt to Save Delta Smelt and Salmon
By Laurie Greene, Editor
“Other Stressors, Not Pumps, Leading to Delta Smelt Decline,” a video produced by Western Growers, explains why the communities, business, and farmland in the Central Valley and southward still experience regulatory water cutbacks that are extreme in some cases, while 3 billion gallons of extra freshwater flow out to sea in the failing effort to save the Delta Smelt from extinction.
The VIDEO addresses this loss of freshwater unused by California residents and businesses still suffering from both drought conditions and environmental water cutbacks and that could have gone into water storage.
Western Growers accuses government agencies in charge of managing California’s water of restricting the Delta pumps far beyond what is required by the law. “As a result,” the association said, “billions of gallons of El Niño water have been flushed out to sea. Shutting down the pumps has not helped the Delta smelt and salmon recover, and government regulators are ignoring other stressors such as predation, invasive species and wastewater discharges.”
Western Growers, founded in 1926, is a trade association of California, Arizona and Colorado farmers who grow, pack and ship almost 50% of our nation’s produce. Their mission is to enhance members’ competitiveness and profitability by providing products and services with agriculture in mind. Services include Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliant health benefits for farmworkers, cost-saving and environmentally-focused logistics, food safety initiatives and advocacy for members.
They ask, “If you enjoy fruits, vegetables and nuts, support our members and the produce industry.”
Featured Photo: Delta smelt by metric ruler (Source: USFWS)
Jim Costa, Congressman for the 16th Congressional District of California that covers all of Merced County and parts of Fresno and Madera Counties and includes vast areas of agricultural land, is not happy with the water situation in California. Costa stated, “To be sure, we are still in a water crisis even though we have had some good [wet] months.”
“Sadly those good months have seen too much of that water going out to sea—as opposed to getting into the San Luis Reservoir and providing water for our Valley—whether for the East side or the Westside. It is a fight that I have been engaged in for years, but most recently, I have been trying to ensure that we are pumping at the maximum levels even under the flawed biological opinions that we are having to contend with.”
Costa explained that while the pumps have been turned up over the past month, sometimes to the maximum level, “the San Luis Reservoir is only 51% full, and now we are are still looking at a 5 percent water allocation for Federal water users. This has been avoidable, and it is unconscionable and immoral. Let me repeat that, it has been avoidable, and it is immoral and unconscionable that we, in fact, are in this predicament. It is largely because we have failed to take advantage of the El Niño months of December and January.”
Assessing our winter water losses,Costa remarked, “Since January 1st, we estimate that we have lost over 440,000 acre-feet of water. This freshwater—440,000 acre-feet—would make a big difference to our Valley, which has been water-starved from a combination of 4 years of drought, plus the flawed biological operations of the Federal and State Water Projects. So, we have to fix this broken water system, bottom line.”
Justification for Reclamation’s 5 Percent Allocation
Following the stunning announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) on Friday, April 1, 2016, of a 5 percent water allocation for Federal water users south of the Delta, Patrick Cavanaugh, deputy editor with California Ag Today interviewed Louis Moore, deputy public affairs officer with the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) Mid-Pacific Region based in Sacramento regarding justification for the low allocation for the Central Valley during this El Niño year.
Cavanaugh: We are all stunned in Central California with that 5 percent water allocation to Central Valley Project water users. With so much hydrology in terms of rain and snow this winter, it seems impossible that farmers and cities could only expect 5 percent!
Moore: Yes, understood. I will try to explain what our logic is behind the 5 percent allocation.
Cavanaugh: Yes, I would like just one reason for the 5 percent. We cannot imagine why so much water is going to waste.
Moore: So basically when we looked at the hydrologic conditions in preparation to make the allocation announcement, we found that regionally, water has fallen differently in the various basins. There was substantially more rain and snow in the mountains in the Oroville and Shasta Dam areas that caused those reservoirs to increase storage quite rapidly. Over at the New Melones Reservoir, which provides water to the south, the storm systems did not materialize and did not produce large sums of runoff; therefore the reservoir storage is low.
Cavanaugh: But the snow that could fill New Melones has not yet melted. And, as you said, there is a lot of water in northern California, and there is a system to get it southward to farms and cities.
Moore: So this is the initial allocation that is out today. We are hopeful that conditions will improve; and if they do so, we can make an adjustment to what the allocation is.
Cavanaugh: You did not mention San Luis Reservoir, a major reservoir jointly run by the state and federal governments that could have had more water pumped into it during the recent high flows, particularly given the flood releases from northern California.
Moore: Water is being pumped into San Luis, and it is for a combination of reasons. Sometimes the natural runoff causes different flows into the systems, but we have to regulate the water that goes through the Delta. San Luis is a shared Federal and State reservoir with legal criteria under which we operate. So we have to be very careful about what waters we can push through the Delta. But we were still providing water to that system.
Cavanaugh: Well, Louis, clearly more water should have pumped into the San Luis Reservoir. On April 2, it was only 52 percent full and, given the flood releases, it should have been more. Californians on farms and cities south of the Delta are frustrated. They assert that far too much water is wastefully flowing out to the ocean—way more than necessary for the protection of species and the prevention of salt-water intrusion. Please explain why so much fresh water, nearly 800,000 acre-feet have flowed out to sea.
Moore: We operate to meet endangered species requirements. We operated to meet water delivery requirements through these various systems. These are federal/state requirements and biological opinion that we are operating to. We are trying to make sure we are following the law, so there are combinations of things where Reclamation works with its partners to determine where and how to get the water where it needs to be.
Cavanaugh: Inflows into the Delta were as high as 300,000 acre-feet of water per day, and only a fraction of that has been moved into San Luis with a capacity of 2 million acre-feet. We understand why San Luis is not filled during drought years; but in an El Niño year like this, it’s confounding how Reclamation could justify an initial 5 percent allocation. It defies any logic, all the water, all the flood releases and the 95 percent on-average snow in the Sierras. Again, how can it possibly be justified?
Moore: What I can say is there is absolute consideration and we understand the impact this has on our customers. One of the reasons we waited until April 1 to make this allocation announcement is because we have been hopeful. We have been looking at the storage, snow and runoff to see if conditions improved enough, so we could actually increase what we thought was going to be a worse allocation.
Cavanaugh: Well, it’s laughable—only 5 percent for San Luis, with all the water in the system from the El Niño year! You’re still not answering the question. None of this makes sense to anyone who is a critical thinker. Can you please explain, other than preventing salt-water intrusion and protecting species, why so much more water—over the top—was sent out?
Moore: We are stillcoming out of the fourth year of dry conditions and that’s not news for folks. The dry conditions that we came through up until the fall of 2015 really impacted our ability to move water downstream into San Luis, which is the same water that can be provided to folks south of the Delta.
We completely understand that, but we are talking about timing of the water supply that we received. Of the additional 4.4 million acre-feet of water that we received over the past several months, 2 million-acre feet occurred in March, which was late [for purposes of allocation analyses]. So we are just getting the sum of this water into our system. And we are still hopeful that [these late hydrology] conditions will improve and we can provide additional water.
Cavanaugh: We know that Fresno received 135 percent of normal rainfall this year; it was wet throughout the area. Five percent was stunning to all of us. We know that farmers will never see 100 percent any longer. And possibly we will never see 80 percent any longer. I mean we could have record flooding throughout the state and farmers may not see a 50 percent allocation—even if the Delta Smelt were proven, unfortunately, to be extinct.
Moore: Yeah, I do hear you. But there is a lot of work that goes into developing water deliveries and a lot of coordination as well. I am not blaming it on the laws, but when we sit down at the table with all the interests for water, it literally becomes a discussion on how to distribute the water and meet all that demand. Now we come to these agreements to meet the legal obligations, to meet the contractual obligations and to protect the environment. So this requires a lot of effort.
Cavanaugh: Louis, I do not get what you are saying. In fact, I disagree with what you are saying. The family farming interest got a zero allocation two years in a row, but the environment still got all the water they wanted. So Reclamation is not sitting down with all the interests for water. The environment gets 100 percent of what they need while everyone else get far less—including zero two years in a row—and now only 5 percent.
Moore: That’s part of the legal requirement that we have talked about. It’s absolutely one of entities at the table that has to be managed.
Cavanaugh: Does the Bureau of Reclamation understand that all this water being used for the environment has not really helped the protected species in the Delta? The species continue to decline despite farmers going without water, fallowing land, and laying off workers, and in spite of devastating communities and severely hurting the economy in the Central Valley.
Moore: You know, I hear you. This is a discussion that I absolutely understand. It’s going to take a lot of folks coming to the table and a lot of discussion to change policy, to change the law and to introduce new ideas on how this works. Those are the things that have to happen
Cavanaugh: Can you help us make this happen?
Moore: You know, this is an ongoing discussion, I assure you. You probably see all the legislative reporting that’s done about water management. It is these discussions that somehow need to culminate into the change that you are mentioning.
Feinstein Calls on President to Direct Federal Agencies to Increase Delta Pumping
Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) TODAY called on President Obama to direct federal agencies “to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions.”
Feinstein wrote in her letter to the president: “I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.”
Full text of the letter follows:
March 24, 2016
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I ask you to direct the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions. Water flows in the Sacramento River are the highest they have been in four years. Just last week, flows in the Sacramento were as high as 76,000 cubic feet per second. We’ve only seen flows that high twice in the past ten years, and not once during this drought. Yet the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service are now considering reducing pumping due to concerns about larval smelt.
Despite these high flows, rather than pumping as much water as possible without undue harm to the smelt, pumping levels remained constant for the past month (see Chart B). Coupled with the fact that only three individual smelt were caught at the pumps this year, and that the most recent trawls revealed no Delta smelt in the south Delta, it seems to me that the agencies operate the system in a manner that may be contrary to the available data, culled from what is already a limited monitoring regime. I understand that the biological opinions impose a ceiling of -5,000 cubic feet per second, but the agencies have the discretion to exercise at least some flexibility to pump above that level.
To put this all in context, between January 1 and March 6 last year, 1.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta and 745,000 acre-feet were pumped out. During the same period this year, 5.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta, but only 852,000 acre-feet were pumped out (see Chart A). If we can’t increase pumping during an El Niño year, then when else can we?
The agencies have also put California and the communities that depend on this water in a Catch-22: Pumping is reduced when there are concerns about the presence of smelt caught as far away as 17 miles from the pumps. Yet agencies will also reduce pumping due to the absence of smelt, based on the idea that historically low smelt populations make detection difficult.
I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.
There are real-world consequences to the decisions being made in the Delta. 69 communities in the Southern San Joaquin Valley reported significant water supply and quality issues. And land is caving, bridges collapsing, as a result of overdrawn ground wells and subsidence. That’s why we need to make sure we’re using every possible tool to make the right choices. Basing pumping decisions on better science and real-time monitoring is the least we can do.
At the recent “Take Back our Water Rally” in Mendota, hundreds gathered to call on Governor Brown to recognize the impact of not just the drought, but the bureaucratic decisions that have had devastating consequences for California farmers. Leadership at the water rally called for action and more voices in the plea for change.
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of California Water Alliance, shared some points she made a the rally, “My challenge to this audience was to understand there is a void of leadership. We have a governor who says he is handling this, and he is not. We have no recovery plan for how to get out of this drought. How do we get out of the crisis? There has been no pathway to recovery, neither from the federal government, nor the state government.” Finally, last month, a group of 47 legislators, both Republican and Democratic, called for a special legislative session.
Bettencourt pointed out the Ag industry is not alone in having been adversely affected by the water constraints. “We all need to communicate to our elected officials,” she said, “that we need a path to relief. My challenge to the audience was to help them realize that because the drought is now statewide and regulatory constraints have drastically cut the regular water supply, we are all—ag and urban communities—even the environmental conservation community—feeling the effects. While we’ve been in this situation for years, and years, and years, we need to expand our base and build our army.”
Many attendees are concerned about the use of the Endangered Species Act to cut water supplies that Central Valley farmers depend on in order to increase populations of a fish that can just as easily be grown by the thousands in hatcheries.
Calling to educate those outside of agriculture to advocate for change in water policies, Bettencourt remarked, “Help those who are unfamiliar with the importance of supply, or more importantly, the lack of supply, to understand why they are frustrated, what is really going on, and how California’s water supply really works. Let’s activate them to being an additional voice to ours; encouraging many voices from diverse locations saying the same thing is the only way the agricultural community, and all stakeholders in California, will ever be heard,” she said.
While forecasters are still optimistic El Niño will deliver heavy rainfall, Bettencourt says California’s water issues will continue unless there is a change in the legislature. She emphasized it would take a big push from more than just the agricultural sector to demand the change that is needed. “It is a numbers game,” she explained. “When you look at the population in California, the bulk of the voters are in the Bay Area, along the Coast and in Southern California. If you add up the registered voters of all the agricultural counties in California, the total is not enough to offset even one of those three heavily populated areas. So the sole hope we have to maximize the only two opportunities for input we can control—our voice and our vote—is to get new voices and new votes,” Bettencourt said.
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross talks about the California drought and some steps the state is making to circumvent the crisis.
“We know from the UC Davis preliminary study that was released last month, that farmers are adapting because of groundwater, and that’s what we store groundwater for, its to help us get us through droughts. But when we have back to back years with surface allocations have been dramatically reduced combined with the drought, our reliance on that groundwater could in some cases mean that we wont have it available for the future,” said Ross.
Ross explained that California Governor Jerry Brown asked various industry leaders, including Secretary Ross, to come up with a “Water Action Plan” in an attempt to solve the water crisis currently facing the state.
Secretary Ross details some aspects of the collaborative “Water Action Plan” for California.
“It was specifically looking at all the things that we could be doing over the next five years, specific actions that were doable over the next five years that could help address California’s water situation going forward. It is groundwater management, it is more storage, it is much more conservation, it is really utilizing better recycled water, storm water capture. So its a whole list of things, and we think it is pretty comprehensive list at everything we need to do going forward.” said Ross.
Ross comments on her point of view on the potential tropical storm El Nino.
“I’ve certainly been in some briefings with some NONA climatologists and our own people at the department of water resources watch this very closely. When you look at the words and how many times the words probability, possibility, uncertainty are used in these descriptions I think El Nino with more than moderate rainfall and snow-pack is what we hope for, but we would be irresponsible to plan that way,” said Ross. “So we must plan the most conservative way possible to have water going forward and hope that El Nino is one that has more than moderate precipitation events come next winter. But we need absolutely need more precipitation, the lack of snow pack is very troubling this year, normally we would be having snowing melt filling our streams and reservoirs,” she added.
“We just our very dependent on mother nature. At the end of the day we are coexisting with mother nature.”