Interior Assesses California Water

U.S. Department of Interior’s Tom Iseman Assesses California Water

Tom Iseman, deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, in an exclusive interview with California Ag Today’s farm news director, Patrick Cavanaugh, assessed how California is faring given the drought.

Cavanaugh:  I see you as someone who focuses on not just solutions but also the issues and tragedies caused by the extended drought in California. From your perspective, how is California doing and how could things be better?

Iseman:         First of all, I think California is obviously on the leading edge for a lot of reasons, but the state is in the midst of an extended drought. So it is really forcing us to be smarter about how we address these water scarcity challenges. I have been very impressed with the way we have been able to really work together—the Bureau of Reclamation working with the state, the water users and the conservation groups—to think about how we can stretch our limited water supplies to meet these different purposes.

Tom Iseman, deputy assistant secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
Tom Iseman, deputy assistant secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior (Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-iseman-3354aa7)

Cavanaugh:  Obviously the country is not able to build another Hoover Dam, but does the Interior understand that we need more storage in California for the rainy days?

Iseman:         Absolutely. There are different ways to do it, so we are looking at a number of projects. One is raising Shasta Dam; one is a new reservoir possibly on the upper San Joaquin River (Temperance Flats); and Sites Reservoir.

Cavanaugh:  But those projects are a long way off, and they may never be built. What can California do now to increase its water portfolio?

Iseman:         There are smarter ways we can build smaller-scale storage and new ways to operate our facilities to stretch water supplies to our advantage.

Cavanaugh:  Could you talk about how we can use water differently? Desal is more expensive water, but water needs to be more expensive. When water gets more expensive, people conserve more, right? Talk about your vision of desal in America, particularly in California.

Iseman:         Generally, clean water technology is a big part of what we need to be doing. It is not just building new storage; it’s being smarter with what we have. So, technology is a great way to do that. We have desalination, water recycling and water reuse. Having these options creates an opportunity for more partnerships. So now you can have cities recycling their water and sending their water supply to agricultural water users—a win-win situation. The city gets some revenue and deals with its wastewater, and agricultural water users get a new supply. That is the way we should be thinking—about the possible partnerships to take advantage of these options.

Cavanaugh:  People building desal plants in cities like Santa Barbara, mothballed the plants when the rains came. We need to make desal part of the culture of these cities located on the ocean. I mean, does the Department of the Interior see that as a rational thing to do?

Iseman:         It’s interesting. Obviously it has been done in other places, and they have invested quite a bit of money here in California. It comes down to economics; we don’t make the decision about whether a city builds or doesn’t build a desal plant, but it is part of the water supply list, potentially.

The challenges with desal is just the cost right now and how much energy and waste it can produce. And they are comparing that to the other options out there. Are there other technologies out there that we can use? Are there water markets or water rights I can acquire? Is there potential for new storage? I think the cost will help sort that out.

The part that cost doesn’t address in some ways—and it can be built in—is the uncertainty. One thing, I think, about a desal plant that people like is that you know there is going to be a water supply if you are on the ocean. And if you have the money and can generate the energy, you can get the water. As you see more uncertainty in our climate and in our existing water supplies, that would be one argument in favor of desal.

Cavanaugh:  It is stable.

Iseman:         Yes, and we need reliability.

Cavanaugh:  Well, you talked about the cost and the economics, but we all need to pay more for water, and I’d be the first one. It would make everyone conserve more, right?

Iseman:         Absolutely.

Cavanaugh:  Maybe, raise the cost of water $10 a bill?

Iseman:         Well, I’m not going to say we are going to raise people’s water rates, but if you talk to the industry and look at the future of the industry, a lot of people say, ‘People need to pay more for water.’ That is how you get the investments.

The federal budget is constrained; they are not going to be there when we are going out and building Hoover Dam in ten years. We just don’t have that kind of resources anymore. So the question is, how do you get more revenue stream in to help contribute to the cost of those investments? And that goes back to rates. And at some point, we will have to decide how much we pay for water and how much we value our water.

Cavanaugh:  Thanks for being aware of all this. Are you encouraged we will find solutions?

Iseman:         We talk about California everyday; we are all very aware of the things that are happening. But I really gained an appreciation of the innovation, the energy and the cooperation of people here—the commitment they have in dealing with these issues. I was glad to be a part of it.

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Link:

U.S. Department of the Interior

Expanding California Wine Industry

Will the Expanding Wine Industry Impact California Communities, Environments?

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

 

How the expanding California wine industry might negatively impact the state’s communities and environment is growing concern. Rob McMillan, who founded Silicon Valley Bank’s Fine Wine Division in 1992, said in the Napa Valley community, “we are banding together to address apathy and address tourism issues in the community planning process. If we continue to build new wineries, those opposed characterize the downside in terms of traffic and noise, with very little fact-finding to back up their argument.”

McMillan described some current challenges associated with getting accurate information to the public. “With social media today, people just get to say what they want, and that grabs hold and becomes a catch phrase. Now in Napa Valley, we are working from behind in that there’s really a divide between growers and vintners about how Napa Valley ought to look. And this is not just limited to Napa Valley, either. You are seeing this anti-tourism attitude brewing in Sonoma County and in Santa Barbara County, legislatively.”

While growth of the industry is a good thing, McMillan believes implementing a strategy to prevent congestion is essential. “Whether you are in Washington or Oregon—pick a place—you also have to engage in the community planning process. If you are going to add tourism and direct consumer sales, you can’t have more and more people come and use your region’s resources until you have nothing but a Saturday traffic jam. Your neighborhood starts looking like New York or Tokyo. That is not going to convey the welcoming and accessible message you need to deliver.”

Silicon Valley Bank’s Fine Wine Division, founded by McMillan in 1992, has since become the leading provider of financial services to the U.S. fine wine industry. To ensure the California wine market remains vibrant, McMillan urges wineries to engage in the community planning process, reach beyond the individual winery to work together as a community, and determine how our wine tourism regions should look like. He elaborated, “We can’t go through distributors; we have to go directly to the public, and direct outreach requires a level of entertainment. We have to solve tourism issues in the planning process.”

Free UCCE Online Training to Increase Food Safety and Protect Natural Resources

UCCE On-Line Training Helps Growers Safeguard Their  Produce Fields

By Pam Kan-Rice, Assistant Director, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

 

On their farms, growers are active stewards of the land, protecting soil quality and water quality as well as supporting wildlife by preserving their habitat. At the same time, fresh produce growers must ensure that their crops are free from pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses.

To help growers and food safety professionals achieve all of these important goals, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has launched a free online course.

“Actions that farmers take to protect food safety may affect natural resources, and conservation practices may affect food safety,” said Mary Bianchi, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, who oversaw design of the course.

The intent of the UCCE online training is to demonstrate that communication between food safety professionals and growers can help to achieve a balance between food safety and sustainability.

“Our co-management course will help food safety professionals better evaluate the risk of conservation practices,” said Bianchi.

“For example, cover crops attract beneficial insects, help control soil erosion and improve soil quality, but they may attract wildlife,” she said. “In the course, we demonstrate frank conversations between food safety auditors and growers about strategies for minimizing the potential risks of crops being contaminated by animal feces. Growers can often provide existing examples, such as monitoring programs or temporary fencing that excludes wild and domestic animals from produce fields.”

The course also provides growers with tools to evaluate their strategies for managing food safety and sustainability.

“After the training, growers and auditors will be better prepared to engage in realistic and frank discussions of co-management strategies used in crop production” Bianchi said.

The free UCCE online co-management course and related resources are online at UCCE San Luis Obispo County website.

This project was funded by a $39,650 grant from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A video describing co-management practices from farm to fork can be viewed online at “Co-Management of Food Safety and Sustainability in Fresh Produce“.