UC Davis Researchers Point to Government as Culprit for Fallow Land

Government Policies—not Drought—Blamed for Fallow Land

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed”¹ water deliveries.

Not even drought can be blamed for land fallowing due to lack of water deliveries to Central Valley federal water users.

 

Jason Peltier, manager of the Federal water district, San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, said, a UC Davis study released this week, “Economic Analysis of the 2016 Drought For California Agriculture,” has confirmed that failed government water policiesnot a lack of rainfall and snow pack—are responsible for the widespread water shortages and the fallowing of more than 300,000 acres of land in the federal water districts on the Westside of Fresno and Kings Counties.

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority

“It raises this question,” Peltier asked, “When do we get honest and start talking about the regulatory drought—the man-made drought, the policy-induced drought, the policy-directed drought? We can’t even have an honest conversation about that.”

 

 

“That our opponents want to deflect and obscure that whole conversation is telling,” he continued, “because we have a tremendous story of adverse economic impact as a result of failed policies. When they tried to protect the fish, they took our water away and they made the supply unreliable. ‘Just a huge failure and they don’t want to address it; they don’t want to deal with it. The same agencies are fixated with their false confidence or their false certainty, their false precision, in terms of how to help the fish.”

 

Peltier explained the regulators failed to deliver all of the 5% allocation [née water delivery reduced by 95%] to growers california drought fallow landin the federal water districts south of the Delta. “It’s nonsense,” he reiterated, that part of the insufficient 5% was never delivered this season. “It’s avoidance of the reality that the regulators have constricted the heck out of the water projects and made it so—even in wet years, and like this year, a normal to wet year—we’ve got huge amounts of land out of production,” Peltier said, adding that almond growers in the federal water districts are not getting a late, post-harvest irrigation, which can hurt next year’s production.


¹Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City

Breaking News: The 5 Percenters May Not Receive All of Their Water Allocation

5 Percenters and Endangered Fish May Both Lose 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Will the 5 Percenters—the Federal water users in California who were restricted by a 95% water allocation reduction this year—actually receive the promised 5% allocation? This scenario follows a more-than-average winter rainfall and snowfall throughout the state.

Ryan Jacobsenexecutive director and CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said, “arguably it’s turned out to be much worse. Right now, for the initial 5% allocation to even be questionable right now is just absolutely insane. It all boils down to the amount of water being held up in Lake Shasta for fish purposes, which has put a major stranglehold on what’s happening down here at this point,” noted Jacobsen.

Central Valley Project (CVP) Water
Central Valley Project (CVP) Water

At Shasta Reservoir, a keystone reservoir of the Central Valley Project, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation essentially discharged flood releases earlier this year just to make room for the water that was expected to come in.  Shasta now stands at a above average full for this time of year, because the Feds are holding all the water for release for salmon later.

This is part of the plan to have cold water available to release for the salmon. And Shasta actually has 30 percent more cold water than what they thought, and water leaders are pushing hard to get the Feds to release it for agriculture.

San Luis Reservoir dead pool
San Luis Reservoir at Dead Pool Status

And San Luis Reservoir is  at a dead-pool status, which insures no more water can be sent south from that reservoirDead pool means no more water can be drawn from San Luis Reservoir, which does not bode well.

Jacobsen said, “This means our federal contractors’ 5% is in question. And that’s the irony: we were looking at such a strong year—or at least an average year [of precipitation]—and ending up now where our meager water supply is in jeopardy. This is incomprehensible and inexcusable from the federal side.”

Shasta has both federal and state water, and the federal side is essentially nothing at this point, explained Jacobsen. “Farmers rely upon San Luis Reservoir water for July and August irrigation, “and the water is essentially gone at this point,” he said. “It just shows you the major mismanagement we’re seeing from the federal side and the inability to capture water even when it is available, and not at the demise of any of these species.”

Jacobsen reiterated, “Back when the precipitation was falling [last winter], water was available at some extraordinarily high levels; yet, we never saw the increase in pumping that we would have expected under the normal conditions. “Of course, we’ve seen less pumping this year for the farmers and the cities south of the Delta,” noted Jacobsen. “During the times of the rainfall this year, it was essentially excuse, after excuse, after excuse. Some newer excuses pertained to why the pumps were not operating or operating at a very reduced capacity,” explained Jacobsen.

“The situation has been frustrating for a couple of years, but the anger continues to build because right now, this is not a ‘Mother Nature’ issue. It is completely a man-made regulatory drought that is, again, just incompetency at its best.”

“When we talk about the water stored behind Shasta [Dam] right now, really it is for the fish,” noted Jacobsen. “The most-watched fishery, at this point, is the salmon fishery. We’re in year four of this drought, but when it comes to the critical side of fish, the salmon essentially operates in three-year cycles. The last two years have been arguably two of the worst years on record for them, and this potential third year is a kind of make-it-or-break-it for salmon fisheries in the Delta region.”

Unfortunately, per Jacobsen, many decisions have been based on guesstimates. “There are a lot of folks who think we need to reserve all of this cold water for a fishery that may or may not be responding to what has been done in the past for this [contracted irrigation] water that has been given up for those purposes,” Jacobsen explained. “Right now, I think we’re doing a lot of experiments at the cost of jobs and employment, and most importantly, the farms here in the San Joaquin Valley. The frustration is that science is really not playing a big part in it. A lot of decisions are just simply, ‘We think we should be doing this versus what the science actually says we should be doing.’”

Jacobsen’s leading frustration is that all that water taken from farmers and given to fish has not helped the fish at all. In fact, the smelt and salmon numbers continue to decline. “I talk about growing frustration and anger from so many folks in the last couple of years… specifically because it hasn’t made a difference,” said Jacobsen. “An exorbitant amount of water has been given up for these fisheries, [endangered fish populations] continue to decline and crash, and as we’ve been saying for years, it is beyond time to look at just the water exporters,” he added.

Jacobsen maintains other stressors should be seriously investigated. “Many other issues taken place in the Delta should be pulled into play here, but again the regulators and the environmentalists continue to look only at the exporters as the sole issue for fish decline. There are so many other factors out there that need to be looked at,” he said.


Highly recommenced reading: “We are the 5 percenters, stretching our water supplies to get by,” by Joe Del BosqueContributing writer, The Orange County Register, July 14, 2016.

Breaking News: Contracted Contractual Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Breaking News: 

Promised Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Delta Smelt Among Many Reasons for Pumping Constraints

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Farmers in the federal water districts of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted only five percent of their contracted water this year; yet they are at risk of getting even less due to pumping constraints. Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a Los Banos-based federal water district explained, “The original forecast had full pumping in June, July, August, and September.

“Because of the temperature constraints and because of the water quality standards,” Peltier stated, “we’ve been operating only one or two pumps. There’s just not enough water flowing south to meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) obligations to the exchange contractors, the [wildlife] refuges and the urban agencies, along with the 5% allocation to the ag services contractors,” he noted.

SLDMWAPeltier is concerned for those in the Central Valley, and water agencies are working frantically to find answers. “We’re working on it,” Peltier affirmed. “We’ve got a lot of engineers and operators preparing spreadsheets and analyzing both the variables and what changes could be made to avoid lower water levels at San Luis Reservoir.”

Commenting on this year’s deliveries, Peltier stated, “No doubt we’re in an unprecedented operating environment. Here we are, eight months into the water year, and we just got a temperature plan for Lake Shasta—that is driving the whole operation—the project. Limiting releases like they are in the temperature plan [designed keep the water cold to protect winter-run salmon eggs]at least we thoughtwould allow Reclamation to hold the commitments they made. But we’re on razor’s edge right now,” Peltier explained.

Peltier described how the process is holding up water release, “The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to keep as much water in storage as possible, in order to keep the cold water cool as long as they can. This is all to protect the winter-run salmon eggs that are in the gravel right now, protect them until the weather turns cool and things naturally cool down. Then they can release water. Shasta’s been effectively trumped by another million-acre feed because of this temperature plan.”

Peltier further noted that the Lake Shasta temperature plan has not allowed water to flow into the Sacramento River. It has severely impacted growers in Northern California on a year when the northern part of the state received above average rain and snowfall during the winter.

“People diverting off the river in the Sacramento Valley have had their own water level issues. There hasn’t been enough water coming down the river to get elevation enough adequate for their pumps. There’s been a lot of ground water pumping,” he said.

The nearly extinct Delta Smelt has been a longstanding issue for those affected by California’s drought. After the past five years of sacrifice, even more water is being taken from agriculture and cities to help save the fish from extinction.

“We’ve got the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wanting significant increases in delta outflow over the summer, supposedly for the benefit of delta smelt, another operational complexity that is sadly not based on any science that we could see. The agencies have their beliefs, and they have the power,” said Peltier.

Featured photo: Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.


California Ag Today will update readers on Bureau of Reclamation announcements about the 5% contracted water delivery federal water district growers were expecting.

Rice Growers Selling Water, Not Rice

Kirk Messick, Senior Vice President, Farmers Rice Cooperative in Sacramento, reviewed the water allocations announced last Friday. “The federal water districts have allocated 75% and the state has allocated 100%; however, the districts on the state side are planning to sell 20% of their water to growers who have permanent crops, such as people in the San Joaquin area.”

Messick says rice growers will plant 60 – 65% of their rice acreage, compared to last year, and he thinks there will be quite a movement of federal water towards permanent crops.

Rice growers in northern California are selling their water to growers who need water for permanent crops. Messick said, “Rice farmers are diverting water to San Joaquin, in general, especially to those along the Westside who lack water. They are even providing water to farmers in the north for young permanent crops such as walnut trees, pistachio trees, grapevines, etc.”Rice Field

Messick is worried rice growers will not meet the demand for the rice industry this year because they can make more money by conveying their water elsewhere. “They’re being offered $1500 an acre-foot, and they cannot make that money with rice. They have the right to move the water, and the state is encouraging it because it wants the water to go to the highest and best use, whether for permanent tree crops or urban use. Other water recipients may pay $2-3,000 per acre.

“Though the state has allocated 100% water for ag use in northern California,” Messick continued, “we know already that 6 of the 15 districts in the state system are going to sell 20% of their water, and that’s the minimum.”

“We are going to see water sales for sure. The numbers are upwards of $1500/acre and will reduce what we thought would be 75% planting (compared to last year) down to 60% – 65%.”

Messick expressed concern “that we will not meet some of our markets, particularly the Middle East or those with less money to spend. Some markets will have to buy from other suppliers in the world.”

“We’re better off than a month ago,” Messick reasoned, “because we didn’t know if we would have any water so decisions to sell water have come up.”

“But,” he said, “there’s a lot more going on with competitive medium-grain rice growers facing droughts in the rest of the world, such as in Australia, Turkey, and Egypt. These droughts will cause dramatic cutbacks in rice planting overseas.”

Back at home, Messick is concerned about 2015, “because we have less than 15% snowpack compared to normal, and very low levels in both Shasta and Oroville—and we haven’t even started to use any water for agriculture.”