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.”

More California Ag News

Farm Water Coalition Shames State Water Resources ... Farm Water Coalition Shames SWRCB Over Proposal  By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director   The California Farm Water Coalition (Coalition) ...
WADE: LET THE WATER FLOW! Let The Water Flow: Mike Wade Urges Water Board To Let Reclamation Pay Back Borrowed Water By Laurie Greene, California Ag Today Editor Mike Wade...
Technology Advances Agriculture Mike Wade: Technology Advances Agriculture By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor As it improves, technology advances agriculture; growers find way...
Storm flows lead to challenges for water system By Kate Campbell; Ag Alert After enduring three of the driest years in state history, nothing could be more heartening to farmers and ranchers than t...

Governor Signs AB 1066 Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

Governor Signs AB 1066 With Good Intentions

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director and Laurie Greene, Editor

 

TODAY, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, the overtime bill for farmworkers, despite pushback from agricultural groups and farmworkers in the state. Ian LeMay, director of member relations & communications of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association, anticipates that not only will farmers in the state lose, but farmworkers, exports, and possibly consumers will lose as well. 

For years, California farm employees accrued overtime pay only after working a 10-hour day, instead of an 8-hour day, like most other employees in California. AB 1066 changes the overtime rules for farmworkers by gradually lowering overtime thresholds in steps over the next four years so farmworkers will eventually earn overtime after an 8-hour day.

The California farm industry has appreciated the prior overtime policy, according to LeMay, because agriculture is not a typical 52-week type of job. The workload of farming ebbs and flows with the seasons, weather, cultural practices and tasks.Farmworkers

For instance, harvesting of crops such as strawberries, citrus and table grapes, normally occurs during short 2- to 3-week periods in the state and is accompanied by an increase in demand for labor. As one might expect, the need for labor declines during non-harvest and non-planting phases, to the extent that farmworkers may endure periods of no work, and hence, no pay. So farmworkers have appreciated the opportunity to work extra hours and earn overtime during busier phases.

Labor costs for California growers of all fresh fruit, avocados and many vegetable crops will be most affected by this change. “This is going to have a very, very big impact on crops that require a high degree of labor like our stone fruit, table grapes and the rest,” said LeMay, “It’s definitely going to change the way our members have to approach doing business,” he said.

“When you compare it to the other states in the union that we are going to have to compete with,” LeMay elaborated, “when you take into account recent changes in minimum wage, piece-rate compensation, increasing farm regulations and now overtime, it’s going to be very difficult to compete not only in a domestic market, but also internationally. That’s the disappointing part about this.”

LeMay also explained that over the last 40 years, the California legislature has crafted labor law to create the highest worker standards in the U.S. “California was the only state in the union that had a daily threshold for overtime of [only] 10 hours per day, and we were one of four in the union that had a weekly threshold for overtime of [only] 60 hours. So in terms of ag overtime, California was already the gold standard.”

And, although lawmakers intended AB 1066 to help farmworkers, LeMay noted, “ultimately, the measure will impact farmworkers the most because farmers in the number one Ag state will find a way to keep its bottom line from eroding any further.

“California farmers will need to solve the puzzle of how to achieve the same amount of work in fewer hours per day,” said LeMay. “They will consider hiring double crews, increasing mechanization in packing facilities, orchards and vineyards, and reducing farm acreage to match their workforce. Or, for those commodities that require increased labor, you could see a transition to commodities like nut crops that use less labor.”

LeMay explained that during down periods on the farm, farmworkers generally collect unemployment, which is based on gross annual income. Now, by giving the farmer an incentive to reduce worker hours, farmworkers’ unemployment compensation may decrease as well.

Furthermore, for the consumer who desires fresh local food from small farms, the phase-in schedule AB 1066 provides to smaller companies is actually a competitive disadvantage. “While AB 1066 allows small farmers—those with fewer than 25 employeesmore time to phase in changes,” LeMay asked, “why would a farmworker stay at small farm under the prolonged 60-hour per week overtime threshold rule, when he or she could work at a larger farm under the phased-in 40-hour per week threshold?”

ab-1066-provisions

 

Are consumers willing to pay for increased labor costs on the farm? “As the saying goes,” LeMay quipped, “generally farmers aren’t price makers, they are price takers. Consumers are usually unwilling to pay extra for their produce, so farmers usually have to absorb increased costs.”

“Economically,” LeMay summarized, “the legislature has taken us from high labor standards to economically disadvantaging farmers and farmworkers. Lawmakers are not paying enough attention to keeping California companies viable, sustainable and successful.”

More California Ag News

Will AB-1066 End Sunup to Sundown Farming? Will Overtime Bill Kill Sunup to Sundown Way of Farming? By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster   Newly approved by the California Assembly,...
Overtime Bill AB 1066 Heads to Governor’s De... California Assembly Sends AB 1066 Overtime Bill to Governor By Patrick Cavanaugh Farm News Director   The California Assembly voted 44 to ...
Nisei Farmers League and African American Farmers ... Nisei Farmers League and African American Farmers of California Discuss Disastrous AB 1066 in Sacramento Today   EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE TEDX TALK V...
Farmers Leave California Due to Regs Nassif Warns that More Farmers Will Leave Highly Regulated California By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster   Earlier this summer, the Ca...

City of Mendota Recovers from Drought

Mendota Resilience and Pride

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

 

For many small San Joaquin Valley cities that have relied on agriculture to support their local economies, the four-year drought in California has dramatically increased unemployment and decreased business revenue. Mendota, a city west of Fresno, hit hard with a 45% unemployment rate, has constructively made calculated adjustments by residents and farmers to recover to its pre-drought economic level, according to Robert Silva, mayor of this resilient city.mendota logo

 

 

“As we have been going through the drought the last four years,” Silva   explained, “Mendota [nicknamed Cantaloupe Center of the World] has been in the spotlight for its high unemployment, and a lot of our farmers are having a rough time. We have had a lot of bad publicity.”

 

“In the laMendota Muralst year or so we have weathered all this,” he stated, “and things are positive now. Our farmers are really understanding how to use every drop of water. We have a lot of new business coming into the community. We have a housing boom that continues to grow, so things are definitely on the rise and we’re standing very proud.”

 

 

“A few years ago, high unemployment forced many people to move away, suddenly creating school classrooms with very few students; however, that has changed too,” said Silva. “Student enrollment is growing and we have added on another school. It is very positive in Mendota; the doom and gloom of a few years ago has gone. Really, it’s gone.”

 

“Financially we’re in good shape and businesses are prospering,” Silva summarized. “It’s good for our city, good for our citizens, and good for business.”

More California Ag News

Food donations underscore drought impact By Kate Campbell; Ag Alert Central Valley farmers and businesses donated and shipped about 30 tons of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts last week to ...
CALIFORNIA HELPING FARM LABORERS PAY BILLS DUE TO ... Source: Veronica Miracle; ABC30 For some farm laborers in the Valley, the drought hits hardest at home. Lack of work is making it difficult for fam...
Friday’s ‘Fight for Water II’ Media Day will Inclu... Two big fights – one for water and the other in the ring – will be in the spotlight Friday afternoon in Fresno during a media day featuring va...
CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND: The State of the Wealth... CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND: The State is Sinking, and Its Wealthy Class Is Full of Hypocrites Editor's note: We thank Victor Davis Hanson for his con...

Poultry Industry Doing Well, for Now

Poultry Industry Shines, Like a Canary in a Coal Mine

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, based in Modesto, reported the state’s poultry industry is doing well despite new regulations and wage increases. “First of all,” he explained, “it looks like chicken has taken over as the [category of] highest meat consumption now in the United States. It’s getting more and more popular, so that’s good,” Mattos noted.

“Also, the best thing is the industry seems to be weathering the Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu (HPAI) A (H5N1) storm,” he continued. “In California, we’re doing our due diligence with biosecurity. We don’t have any Avian Influenza. We’ll knock on wood for that.”

California Poultry Federation logo“The industry is also enjoying lower feed costs. That’s 60% of our cost, so that’s good news,” he added.

And, poultry industry employees have job security. “It doesn’t look like there will be fewer employees in the industry over the next few years, and we’d like to have more,” he said.

Notwithstanding the good news, challenges loom on the near horizon. “The Air Quality and Water Quality Control Boards are regulating a lot of different industries,” Mattos observed. “They’re starting to look at the poultry industry now that they have completed the dairy rules. We’re very concerned about those issues, so we are trying to work with the boards to explain to them what we do and how our business runs,” noted Mattos.

The updated minimum wage requirement may hurt the California poultry industry, another big concern of Mattos. “We supply half the chicken consumed in California. The other half comes from out of state. Without the same minimum wage requirements, we’re going to be at a disadvantage. We’re looking into the different possibilities—what we can do—to offset that.”

“You will be seeing some new things coming out from the poultry industry as we look at the ramifications of the new minimum wage,” explained Mattos. “We can’t compete with that. They are going to be taking a lot more percentage away from us, which may cost us some jobs if we don’t work this out.”

“With the minimum wage hike, California lawmakers are trying to appease workers. But it really affects businesses. Ours happen to be mostly in the Central Valley, which is the hardest-pressed area for unemployment. It isn’t a good place to have to follow wage requirements like you’re seeing in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It frankly makes no sense in the Central Valley,” said Mattos.

More California Ag News

BIG WATER RALLY SCHEDULED FOR JAN. 16! Thousands Needed To Participate In Big Water Rally on Jan. 16  
Solano County 4-H Clubs Win Big at Skills Day When Life Gives you Lemons, Make Lemon Curd! Showmanship winner Tyler Scott of the Wolfskill 4-H Club DIXON--Tyler Scott of the...
California Ag News UC To Help Ranchers UC to Help Ranchers Survive Winter 2013-14 The first agricultural operations to feel the impact of a drought are dryland ranchers, many of whom r...
MONTEREY FARM BUREAU WARNS CPUC ON WATER ISSUES Desalination Plant Could Jeopardize Groundwater Supply California American Water could threaten the ground water supply of the Salinas Valley where u...