California’s ‘Exceptional Drought’

Long Term Solutions, Desperately Needed For California Drought

 

By John Vikupitz, president and CEO of Netafim USA in Fresno, California

 

Aaron Barcellos, a partner with A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Los Banos, is a fourth-generation farmer. His 7,000-acre operation produces crops, including pistachios, pomegranates, asparagus, and tomatoes.

The farm creates jobs for up to 40 people full-time and over 100 at peak season. This year, the operation took an unprecedented move in letting 30 percent of its productive acreage go fallow for lack of water, redirecting available water to permanent crops and to honor tomato contracts.  This fallowing of acreage has resulted in a loss of work for over 30 part-time employees and an estimated loss of $10 million to the local business economy from his operation, alone.

“It’s a ‘batten down the hatches’ year,” notes Mr. Barcellos. “We are trying to survive this year while hoping the severity of this drought will provide momentum for more long term solutions to our water crisis.”

California’s ‘exceptional drought’ – said by University of California (UC) Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn to perhaps be the worst in 500 years – places the state at a critical juncture.

California’s historic low precipitation of 2013 and the below normal 2012 precipitation left most state reservoirs at  between six percent storage in the Southern Sierra to 36 percent in Shasta – levels not been seen since the 1977 severe drought. Snowpack is nearly non-existent.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports nearly half of the U.S. is in some form of drought.

Water is one of life’s greatest conveniences. Turn on the tap and water appears, often at less cost than other household bills, providing the lifeblood for food production, human health, climate, energy and the ecosystem.

We may take water for granted until we’re in danger of losing it as sources dry up. We may not contemplate the support system and cost that brings water to the tap: the extensive pipe conveyance system, treatment plant, chemicals needed for purification, labor and energy costs.

Consequently, every drop saved by one water user benefits all users.

Homeowners may do their part in water conservation by installing low-flow fixtures – often incentivized through government rebate programs – by washing vehicles less or taking shorter showers. The payoff: lower water bills.

The agricultural sector is doing its part, too, using water-saving technology investments that reap returns for Californians, as well as those elsewhere benefitting from its exports. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts and leads the world in almond and pistachio production. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion for their 2012 output.  Exports totaled more than $18 billion.

Tens of thousands of productive acres are being fallowed. The number of jobs, specifically those of farmworkers, will subside as food prices increase. California, the nation’s top dairy producer, is shipping cows out of state due to water uncertainties with no guarantee that alfalfa and other crops cows consume will continue to be available.

It’s critical that people appreciate their food source. California’s regulations ensure safe and reliable food, while California’s highly progressive and efficient farmers enable that food source to be the cheapest in the world Mr. Barcellos points out.

Food safety and quality drive those innovations, as well as economics. Regulations mean the cost to produce food and get it to the store requires farmers to be highly efficient to remain competitive.

Mr. Barcellos farms in five different irrigation districts with various water rights and water supplies. A-Bar Ag Enterprises has converted 5,500 acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation creating a combined water savings and production efficiency of over twenty percent.

“What we do in California with the different irrigation technologies creates significant efficiencies in water application without waste, enabling farmers to increase yields with fewer inputs. With that said, it doesn’t matter what the crop – it still takes water to grow it,” Mr. Barcellos points out.

According to The Center for Irrigation Technology at California State University, Fresno, Agriculture uses 40 percent of all dedicated water, including environmental, municipal and industrial uses in order to meet the needs of the eight million irrigated agricultural acres in California.

When farmers were short on water, they used to purchase it on the open market or pump more ground water. This year, there is no water to buy and wells are starting to run dry, says Mr. Barcellos.

While the federal government has offered temporary food money for farmworkers, “the people in our communities want to work, not receive handouts from a food bank,” Mr. Barcellos says, adding that it’s time to work on long-term solutions to water problems.

California’s water system was developed for 20 million people, with residents and farmers sharing the water supply, with those same resources later shared to meet environmental concerns. That – and the nearly doubled population – has taxed the water system, Mr. Barcellos says.

“We haven’t spent any serious funds to improve California’s infrastructure since the early 1970s to keep pace with population growth and environmental demands,” Mr. Barcellos says. “If the environment needs more water, let’s use sound science and invest in more storage and better conveyance systems for long-term solutions.”

Following Governor Edmund Brown Jr.’s January declaration of a drought emergency, the State Water Project cut water deliveries to all 29 public water agencies to zero for 2014.

Even if there is some short-term relief, mitigation is needed to protect against long-term unpredictable weather patterns.

UC Berkeley’s David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains:  the drought notwithstanding, California’s aged infrastructure calls for increased investments in water recycling, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination with a focus on local water supply development.

The United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), California indicates three priorities: protecting soils made vulnerable by water cutbacks, protecting drought-impacted rangeland, and stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to develop a water conservation plan and seek funding opportunities such as the $30 million available through USDA NRCS California to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers with conservation practices and the $25 million to help pay for conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Irrigation is the final stop on the train that begins with water supply and continues with delivery methods. Water conservation technology – much of which has been proven overseas for decades on arid farmlands – offers a solution right now to apply water more precisely and even improve crop yields and quality.

Our world’s growing population calls for large-scale farming to provide food. For decades, California farmers with reasonable and secure access to water have used water conservation technologies to continue farming and create more water for other purposes, such as the needs of growing urban areas and for environmental remediation, which uses half of California’s water supply.

Farmers like Mr. Barcellos are great stewards of the environment. Many California farmers have successfully adopted this technology to a large degree, using water more efficiently and leaving more in the system for other uses. We need to expand that effort more.

Friant District’s ‘Zero’ Disaster Mounts

Parched Trees Being Pulled in Friant Division As Senior Rights Water Releases Begin

 

Zero remains the frustrating word for Friant Division growers who continue to have no Central Valley Project water to use and, in many cases, little or no groundwater available to tap in their desperate efforts to save increasingly moisture-stressed permanent plantings along the south valley’s East Side.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s zero water supply declaration remains in effect for the Friant Division, even as Reclamation increases the Friant Project’s first-ever CVP supply releases to get water to the San Joaquin River’s senior water rights holders downstream, the Exchange Contractors, even though the Bureau has other sources from which to make the exchange supply available.

A Friant Water Authority news release, which gained some national news coverage May 15 when the river releases started, said that date was probably “the darkest and most frustrating day in the eastern San Joaquin Valley’s long and complicated water history” and laid the blame squarely on federal regulatory factors that did not exist in the past’s worst drought events.

In districts along the Friant-Kern Canal with no usable groundwater and which rely entirely on CVP water diverted at Friant Dam from the San Joaquin River, ever-increasing numbers of permanent plantings – mostly orange trees – are already being taken out as more and more growers bow to what they see as the inevitable.
Tens of thousands of acres covered by trees remaining in those districts are doomed to die by late summer if they receive no water. Also promising to wilt are economies of dozens of farm communities and rural areas as jobs are lost, lives and opportunities are uprooted along with trees, and local and regional business, social and civic institutions also find their means of support lost.

A preliminary estimate of losses in just the citrus industry alone has been listed at some $3 billion over the next five years, including crop losses, removal of groves, preparations for replanting and waiting for young trees to commercially produce.

Start of Exchange Releases

Friant’s dispute with the United States government over how Reclamation is managing the river system’s complex water exchange reached the tipping point May 15 when the Interior Department agency began sending water down the river after Reclamation announced it was “unable” to provide the Exchange Contractors with their substitute supplies of Delta water.

That substitute water for the better part of the last seven decades has made possible Friant-Kern Canal and Madera Canal diversions at Friant Dam, as agreed upon in decades-old CVP contracts.

The Friant Water Authority has made it clear its members fully respect and abide by the Exchange Contractors’ senior water rights, which date back to 19th century filings by the historic cattle firm Miller & Lux.

However, Reclamation has more than 200,000 acre-feet of CVP water stored in San Luis Reservoir and is also maintaining increased CVP storage in Lake Shasta. The Bureau decided to use some of these supplies for south-of-Delta wildlife refuges, which primarily benefit migratory waterfowl such as ducks, rather than supplying it to the four agencies known as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors. Refuges are to receive 178,000 acre-feet, and Reclamation estimates that it will provide the Exchange Contractors with 529,000 acre-feet from April through October, using a combination of the CVP’s San Joaquin River supplies and north state water pumped from the Delta.

Senior Water Rights

Friant Division contractors asserted in newly-filed litigation that CVP agreements and senior water rights should compel Reclamation to deliver water to the Exchange Contractors as has always previously been done, from Lake Shasta, the Delta and San Luis Reservoir. (See related story.)  Lake Shasta storage continues to be enhanced by a few hundred thousand acre-feet of water that the National Marine Fisheries Service has stubbornly reserved under a biological opinion for cold water preservation to benefit Chinook salmon later this year.

Friant believes there is no evidence that Reclamation has ever requested consultation on its mandatory performance of the Exchange Contract, and thus, there is no basis for withholding this water under an inapplicable biological opinion.

Friant also contends that the United States is not respecting the Exchange Contractors’ senior rights as a result of Reclamation’s decisions to reserve CVP water in Lake Shasta and San Luis Reservoir for use by junior water rights holders. (Please see summary of Friant’s litigation claims.)

This third year of critical drought conditions has dramatically reduced natural San Joaquin River runoff, meaning that the water Reclamation is releasing to the Exchange Contractors is permanently lost to Friant Division use. Projections are that the river releases may consume most of the river’s remaining supply. The San Joaquin River Restoration’s interim flows were suspended in February because of the drought and are not currently a factor in the lack of Friant supply availability.

Ironically, the San Joaquin River water now being released has always been at the heart of the Friant Division’s supply. In the late 1930s, Reclamation signed a “purchase agreement” and an “exchange of waters” agreement, enabling the agency to divert water at Friant Dam.

In exchange, the Bureau agreed to provide the territory formerly within the massive ranch of the old cattle firm Miller & Lux with a substitute supply of water from the Delta, delivered through the Delta-Mendota Canal.

The old Miller & Lux rights continue to exist and belong to the Exchange Contractors.

CaliforniaDroughtFriantArea

Strategic Plan for the Future of Integrated Regional Water Management

DWR is developing a strategic plan for the future of Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) in California.

This plan will help shape the desired future for IRWM and identify measures needed for that future to be achieved.

The IRWM strategic plan will describe DWR’s future role and guide its actions for improving its support of IRWM. In addition, the plan will identify options, tools, and recommendations for others to support the practice of IRWM.

California Water Conveyance or irrigation, water managementThe Strategic Plan for water management is needed to:

  • build on the current and past successes of IRWM
  • further enable, empower, and support regional water management groups
  • better align state and federal programs to support IRWM
  • develop a shared vision for funding priorities and financing mechanisms
  • inform and influence future water management policies and investments for California

“The Strategic Plan for the Future of IRWM in California is critical for ensuring the continued advancement of sustainable water resources management.”             – Mark Cowin; Director, DWR

Today, DWR protects, conserves, develops, and manages much of California’s water supply including the State Water Project which provides water for 25 million residents, farms, and businesses.

Q&A Drought Management For Almonds

Source: David Doll 

These questions and answers offer insightful advice for almond farmers coping with the drought.

Q. How should I plan to irrigate my trees?

A. As discussed before, this is dependent upon the amount of water that is available. If you have greater than 80-85% of the water that is typically applied to the orchard, deficits can be targeted (50% reduction in applied water) for the period after kernel fill but before hull split. If less than 80%, the water should be spread out at the relative percentage of water use. For example, if 30% of the seasons water is available, every irrigation would be 30% of normal. Keep in mind that in drought years it is often hotter than in “normal” years.

Q. When should I start irrigating?

A. Typically, irrigations should start when the trees are starting to “work” for water. Using a pressure bomb, this value is around 2 bars more negative than baseline. If baseline is -8, irrigation should begin at -10.  If facing a moderate curtailment, it may be best to let the trees stress a little more, perhaps -4 bars more than baseline. If facing a severe curtailment, a scenario in which we know less about, it might be best to hold off longer before applying the water (~6-8 bars more negative than baseline, perhaps?). Basically, the idea is to stress the trees, which then triggers a physiological response which makes the tree more drought resistant (less vegetative growth, fewer stomatal openings/leaf, etc).

Q.  What’s an easy way to calculate baseline?

A. To get in the ballpark, baseline can be estimated by taking one tenth of the temperature. If it is 85 degrees, baseline will be -8.5. Since it is measured as pressure applied, it is always read as a negative value. For more specific calculations, which take into account humidity and temperature, please see this UC Davis Baseline website.

Q. How much should I reduce my nitrogen if I am reducing my water?

A. Good question. Nitrogen rates should be reduced. Based upon some speculation from various trial results, our best guess is to reduce nitrogen rates by about 1/2 of the water curtailment. So, if taking a 50% water reduction, nitrogen should be reduced by a minimum of 25%. In-season estimate of crop may also determine that less N is needed. If in a second year of deficit irrigation (i.e. 2nd year of drought), the reduction of nitrogen should match the reduction in water (50% water reduction, 50% nitrogen reduction). Keep in mind that applying too much N will flush growth, increasing vegetation, which will require more water.

Q. I hear and saw stories about people pulling trees…should I?

A. If blocks were planned to be cycled out and removed within the next few years, water from these blocks should be considered to be diverted to other, younger blocks. This will help negate the effects on the developing block. Depending upon where the orchard is located, there may be some crop that is salvageable from the “dry-land” farmed block, but it will be of lower quality.

Q. Are there any other resources to help?

A. Yes – Please see UC Davis’s Drought Management Website for more drought management in multiple crops. To gain a little more help in scheduling irrigation, check out Fresno State’s Water Right Website. Farm Advisor Blake Sanden also has some good information at his Kern County Web Page. Also, feel free to contact your local farm advisor.

 

New Drought Fact Sheet Available

CATThe California Farm Water Coalition has a brand new fact sheet available on California’s 2014 drought.
The one-page information piece is intended for consumers and breaks down the drought into easy-to-understand sections.
Information includes an updated number of acres expected to be idled this year (800,000 acres), how lost farm production will impact the economy, what consumers can expect to see in stores in the way of food-related price increases and also what farmers have been doing over the years to improve water use efficiency.
The California Farm Water Coalition was formed in 1989 in the midst of a six-year drought. CFWC was formed to increase public awareness of agriculture’s efficient use of water and promote the industry’s environmental sensitivity regarding water.  

U.N. World Water Day, 2014

Excerpted from: Grants Pass; OR (PRWEB)

To water advocate and researcher Sharon Kleyne, United Nations World Water Day is one of the most important days of the year.

The annual March 22 observance, says Kleyne, offers an opportunity to reflect on advances and setbacks in the ongoing global fresh water supply crisis, and to further educate the public about this critical issue.

Kleyne believes that fresh water supply should be the number one priority of nearly every government on Earth.

Sharon Kleyne is Founder of Bio-Logic Aqua Research, a fresh water, atmospheric and health research and product development center.

According to Kleyne, one of the most comprehensive and readable books about the global fresh water supply is Steven Solomon‘s classic, Water: the Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization (Harper Collins 2009).

Kleyne first interviewed Solomon, in Rome at the time, on World Water Day 2010. On subsequent appearances, Solomon has offered updates.

In his book, Solomon describes water as “Earth’s most indispensable resource.” Fresh water, according to Solomon, is critical to human survival and economic development, and is more important than oil.

Fresh water wars remains an important factor in US politics, says Solomon. Imported water is critical to desert cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

In recent years, Kleyne adds, Colorado has been having its own internal water shortages while California is in the mist of the worst drought in a century. In California, water allocation to farmers from the Central Valley Project and State Water Project have been greatly curtailed, forcing farmers in the nation’s number one agricultural state, to pump ground water for irrigation.

Kleyne noted that 1.6 billion people worldwide lack access to abundant and sanitary water (http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml).

Ironically, she says, most Americans do not drink the recommended eight to ten glasses of water per day even where available and inexpensive.

Drought Could Affect Current and Future Food Prices

California Farm Bureau Federation reported today that with hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland expected to be left unplanted this year due to water shortages, market analysts and economists say shoppers will likely begin to see higher prices on some food items later this year.

Sean Villa, president of Great West Produce, a produce broker in Los Angeles County, said he expects a number of products to be affected later this year, including broccoli, sweet corn and melons from growing regions in Fresno, Mendota and Huron, where farmers will likely cut acreage due to water shortages.

Gary Tanimura, a vegetable grower based in the Salinas Valley, said he will have to reduce his summer melon production in the San Joaquin Valley by about 20 percent due to lack of water.

Tanimura said spring and fall lettuce production in the San Joaquin Valley also could drop by 25 percent to 30 percent this year.

Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, said farms in the Oxnard growing region—which typically plant a second crop in the summer for fall production—may not be able to do that this year.

“If the water situation continues to be this severe, there may not be as many of those acres replanted for fall production,” she said, adding that if the drought continues into fall and winter, when most strawberries are planted, it could affect what’s planted for next year’s harvest.

Because California supplies nearly 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries, Jewell said it is not likely that there will be much of a production shift to other regions.

“It’s not like someone else could step in and do that,” she said. “It’s all about climate and location.”

On the beef market, the California drought may have the most impact on niche products such as grassfed, organic or natural beef, said Lance Zimmerman, a market analyst for Colorado-based Cattlefax. Those programs typically rely more on local or semi-regional supplies, he said.

Retail beef prices have risen nationwide, Zimmerman said, because of improved demand and continued declines in supply caused by several years of drought in other major beef-producing regions in the Southern Plains and the Southeast.

In states where drought conditions have improved, ranchers are now trying to build back their herds, so they’re not sending as many animals to market, particularly mature cows, and that has driven up prices on meat cuts such as chuck roast and ground beef, he added.

On the produce market, fair weather accompanying the drought has, for now, caused vegetable crops to come to market ahead of schedule, creating an overlap of products from the desert region and the San Joaquin Valley.

That, combined with reduced demand from East Coast markets due to severe winter weather, has led to temporary oversupplies of some vegetables, Tanimura said, while Jewell reported that berry production has also been stimulated by warm winter weather.

Drought Assistance Open House for Farmers, Ranchers and Farmworkers

As California faces one of the driest years ever recorded, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be holding an informational session on drought resources for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers in Cloverdale.

This session will provide information on a variety of state and federal government programs designed to assist farmers with water conservation, crop insurance, and other on-farm management tools. Information on farmworker assistance programs will also be available.

While deadlines for some federal assistance programs have already passed for the 2014 crop year, there are many programs still available to those involved in agriculture.

Cloverdale event information:

March 17, 2014 – 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Cloverdale/Sonoma County) – Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds 

Several state/federal government entities will be represented at this event, including: USDA Farm Service Agency; USDA Risk Management Agency; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; USDA Rural Development; the California Employment Development Department; and other community resources.

CDFA continues to support California’s drought response. The department has developed a web page as an information clearinghouse on assistance programs for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers; will continue to work with California food banks to address drought-related impacts; and is working with the University of California to develop a real-time assessment of drought impacts in farming and ranching communities.

Additionally, CDFA continues to work as part of Governor Brown’s Drought Task Force to coordinate drought response efforts with other state agencies.

For more information concerning drought resources for California farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers, please visit – www.cdfa.ca.gov/drought

“The Fight for Water” screens at Columbia College in Sonora, California

Historic Water March

The award-winning documentary, The Fight for Water: A Farm Worker Struggle”, has been invited to screen at 5:40 pm, Saturday, March 8th at Columbia College’s Dogwood Theatre  in Sonora, California, as part of the “Official Selection” at this year’s Back to Nature Film Fest Series.

Joe Del Bosque V
Joe Del Bosque

Presented by the college’s Forestry & Natural Resources Club and the ITSA Film Festival, the screening will be followed by a Q & A with the filmmaker.

The film documents the impact of a federal decision on people living in a Central Valley farming community in the Spring of 2009 when their water supply was cut off and they staged a march to fight for their water.

juancarlos5

The film proudly tells the humble story of Joe Del Bosque, who came from parents who were migrant farmworkers to become a farmer and a major Ag leader in the California Central Valley.

He was recently thrown into national spotlight when President Barack Obama visited his farm on February 14, 2014 to address the current drought in California.

Hollywood actor Paul Rodriguez, who helped organize the March for Water in the style of Cesar Chavez, and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are also featured in the film.

The documentary film, which serves as a cautionary tale and precursor to the current drought in California, has screened at over 10 film festivals, winning accolades and worldwide recognition. The film was produced by Juan Carlos Oseguera, 40, a San Francisco State University alumnus who has been a published film critic and an accomplished  producer of several award-winning short films. 

It recently received the Best Documentary award at the 2013 International Monarch Film Festival and at the 2013 Viña de Oro Fresno International Film Festival.  The film also received runner-up honors for Best Documentary in Cinematography and for Best Political Documentary Film at the 2013 Action on Film International Film Festival, where it also received a nomination for Excellence in Filmmaking.

No Water Logo

“People should see this film,” stated Lois Henry, a newspaper columnist who reviewed the film for The Bakersfield Californian.  “It’s important that we understand that perspective of what the ‘Water Wars’ mean on a really, really human scale.”

This is Oseguera’s first feature-length film.

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2014 Citrus Showcase on March 6th

2014 CITRUS SHOWCASE TO COVER HLB, ACP, GMOs, WATER

 

The 2014 Citrus Showcase is March 6th at the Visalia Convention Center. There is no cost or registration required to attend. Breakfast and lunch tickets can be purchased by contacting California Citrus Mutual; reservations are required and tickets are expected to sell out fast.

 

The Citrus Showcase is the largest educational forum for California citrus growers, offering 6 separate breakout sessions focused on priority issues that are currently impacting the industry and industry tradeshow with over 100 exhibitors.

 

New this year is the first Annual Citrus Showcase Breakfast featuring keynote Speaker Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. In her talk, titled “Breakfast with Water” Marcus will discuss the biggest issues facing California farmers today – water supply and delivery.

 

As Chair of the Water Board, Marcus’ activities include oversight of Regional Water Board activity including directing nitrate regulation and clean drinking water initiatives as well as assisting the Administration in determining where the State’s limited water supply shall go.

 

“Water with Breakfast” is sponsored by Compac Equipment and Sorting, Rabobank, and Bank of the Sierra. The program will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the Visalia Marriott, Sierra-Nevada Ballroom adjacent to the Visalia Convention Center.

 

The Luncheon will begin at 12:30 p.m. in the Visalia Convention Center Trade Show Exhibit Hall. The program will feature keynote speaker Cathy Enright, Executive Vice President of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) who will discuss the public backlash against Genetically Modified crops.

 

GMO research has been identified as a possible solution path for the U.S. citrus industry to defend itself against the ravages of the deadly citrus plant disease Huanglongbing. Activists have raised concern about GMO products, citing safety as a primary reason why GMO engineered food product should not be allowed into the market place. Their momentum has caused government, members of the scientific community, and some stakeholders to take a step back from the spotlight. Enright will discuss how members of her organization have begun to fight back.

 

Sponsors of the Citrus Showcase are: JKB Energy, Valent, Pace International, Farm Credit Associations, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta, Fruit Growers Supply, Southern California Edison, Yara, Sinclair, Deep Point Group, 2,4-D Taskforce and Duarte Nursery.