Joel Nelsen on Zero Water Allocation

Joel Nelsen, President of the California Citrus Mutual,

Shares Viewpoints on the Zero Water Allocation

The definition of balance at the State and Federal level is once again highlighted by an announcement from the Bureau of Reclamation that producers south of the Delta will again receive zero allocation for surface water and everything and everybody else gets something. “Two years in a row zero allocation is the message while other parties receive an allocation for farming, the environment or municipal needs and that is the definition of balance by federal decision makers which questions how they define balance,” states CCM President Joel Nelsen

Two weeks ago State Water Resources Control Board Executive Director took it upon himself to override environmentally friendly fish agencies and not allow additional pumping designed to assist citizens south of the Delta. “His statement that real data is not fool proof and he would exercise his judgment runs parallel to the federal policy which is unacceptable but consistent, that producing food is not a priority!

Since 1992 over seven million acre feet of water has been transferred away from landowners in the Southern San Joaquin Valley with no accountability as to the environmental successes achieved. Since 1992 those sourcing water from the Friant system have been paying additional dollars per acre foot for environmental enhancements with no accountability. The state of California has over 320 species listed as endangered and yet all the efforts have not led to one species being removed from the ESA list. “Just give more is the answer and state and federal officials remove prime agricultural land from production to accomplish what?”

Preserving the Delta from salt water intrusion is a priority according to the CCM President but “preserving smelt so that they can be consumed by predator fish or toxins dumped thereby requiring more water is unacceptable. Establishing cold water habitats with warm water is ludicrous.”

“We have to be the only state in the nation and the only nation on earth establishing policies that destroys the production of food. That’s a legacy these two administrations must explain,” he concluded.

BREAKING NEWS—Federal Water Users Once Again Will Get Zero Water This Year

Statement of Don Peracchi, President of Westlands Water District, on Zero Water

FRESNO, CA – For the second year in a row, California farmers will be receiving ZERO water from the Central Valley Project. The announcement today from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that more than one million acres of highly productive farmland will once again receive a zero allocation of water this year should make one thing abundantly clear.

The federal government’s Central Valley Project is broken. Its failure threatens the continued coordination of local, state and federal water agencies in operating the modern water system on which all of California depends. And as a result, some of the most vital elements of the state’s economy are being allowed to wither and die.

It is easy to blame this failure on the drought. But that is only a little bit true. There is no question that dry conditions in 2014 and 2015 have contributed to the crisis. But the Central Valley Project was designed and built precisely for the purpose of alleviating the effects of far more serious droughts than what we are experiencing today.

USBR WaterFrom 1987 through 1992, for example, in the midst of another prolonged drought that makes the current dry conditions pale in comparison, Reclamation was able to deliver 100%, 100%, 100%, 50%, 25%, and 25% of its normal allocations in each of those years.

Indeed, when Reclamation designed the Central Valley Project, it calculated how much water the system could reliably deliver even during a repeat of the most extreme drought that California suffered, from 1928 to 1934. And Reclamation based its decision on how much water it could make available to farmers based on that calculation.

Contrast that with the failure we are facing today. In 2013, a mere two years after the torrential rains we all experienced in 2011, the Central Valley Project was only able to deliver 20% of its normal supplies to farmers south of the Delta. And in 2014, Reclamation was not only unable to deliver any water to farmers, it could not even meet the “core demands” of its contractual obligation to senior water right holders on the San Joaquin River and its statutory obligation to managed wetlands.

Now, in 2015, we are told that the water supply conditions will be even worse than in 2014.

Why is the Central Valley Project no longer capable of fulfilling the basic purposes for which it was built? Don’t blame the drought. There is no question that new federal rules and regulations restricting the flow of water have contributed greatly to the human suffering that will occur in this third year of nearly zero or grossly inadequate allocations. And what is particularly tragic is that these new rules and regulations, which are intended to benefit threatened fish species, are based on conjecture and unproven theories that have done nothing to protect fish populations. Instead, fish populations continue to decline.

Central Valley Project, USBR
Central Valley Project, USBR

The governor has a plan for addressing California’s water crisis, and the public’s support for the water bonds last year is helping to implement it. But the breakdown in the Central Valley Project is not a problem that can be solved in Sacramento by the long-term solutions proposed in the governor’s plan. Fortunately California’s leaders from both political parties in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been working together for more than a year on legislation that would help to restore reliability to our water system in order to protect the economy and the environment.

In 1992, when Barbara Boxer first ran for the Senate, she challenged Californians to stand up for the issues they cared about. “Where are the voices?” she asked. “Where’s the spine? Where’s the anger? This isn’t about some theory. This is about [people’s] lives.”

Today is a very sad day for the people in California and all over the country who depend on food grown by farmers who receive water from the Central Valley Project. Today is a very sad day for the workers who will be without jobs because farmers have no water. And today is a very sad day for the environment, which will continue to decline because federal agencies trusted with protecting at-risk fish species are content to tie the hands of project operators whose mission is delivering water for human needs, while these same agencies do nothing to address the numerous factors that limit fish populations.

As she winds up her long career in public service, Senator Boxer’s questions are just as vital as ever. Where are the voices? Where’s the spine? Where’s the anger? This isn’t about some theory. This is about people’s lives.

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Views on Food: Outsmarting the Drought

By Elaine Corn; The Sacramento Bee

Shahar Caspi tends acres of gardens, fruit trees and a commercial vineyard in the hamlet of Oregon House in the foothills between Marysville and Grass Valley. His job since 2012 has been raising food year round for his community and bringing perfect wine grapes to harvest – all without tilling, and with little to zero added water.

We drove between two fields, one side brown, ragged and parched, the other a Caspi no-water showcase – grape vines in bud break, the ground beneath them rich, a natural ground cover green as jade.

“Mulch with shredded roots,” he says exuberantly, eyes off the road. “Very simple!”

At a sunny glade, another concept preps cherry trees. He walks us past huge square holes he flushed with water and allowed to drain. The holes were filled with Caspi’s mulch, manure and compost, then a tree. “They won’t need water for many, many months.”

Back in the greenhouse next to his mountaintop home, Caspi laid manure on the rock-hard dirt floor, and on purpose didn’t till the soil underneath. He stuck chard seedlings directly into the manure. “They flourished immediately,” Caspi says. “The roots went sideways into a huge mass of roots. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

And despite no rainfall the first four months of his second season of raising food for his neighbors, water usage dropped 30 percent and yields increased.

How does he do it?

The same way a dietitian would bulk up a wasting patient with lots of calories and nutrients. Except Caspi is like a soil chef, mixing fermented manure and compost in varying proportions “to re-establish a whole layer of soil that holds water” like a subterranean sponge.

The technique is reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner’s bio-dynamics, which treats the farm as a holistic entity. But considering Caspi’s past and combining it with an uncertain future of water in California, a goal of using zero water to grow food is understandable.

Caspi grew up inculcated with respect for water. In Israel, kids get “Don’t Waste A Drop” stickers in school that go on the family fridge. “It’s so much in our blood to save water,” he says. “We had a cartoon that showed the whole family showering together under a few drops of water.”

Modern drip irrigation with emitters was an idea out of Israel. So is placing black plastic sheeting over soil to contain moisture. Israel leads the world in recycling 80 percent of its water. Its latest technology collects dew.

In California, some growers are on top of the drought. A report from the California Farm Water Coalition says that in the San Joaquin Valley $2.2 billion was invested in drip irrigation on 1.8 million acres. But for every conserver using soil probes, infrared photography and improved weather forecasting, we have devourers of resources.

“Here you flood fields,” Caspi says. “An Israeli would say, ‘Are you kidding?’ It’s the mentality of abundance, that it’s going to last forever.”

In 2008, winemaker Gideon Beinstock hired Caspi to be vineyard manager at Renaissance Vineyard and Winery in Oregon House. With Caspi’s degree in plant sciences from The Hebrew University and years of experience in water strategy in Israel, his mission was to convert 45 acres of conventionally cultivated vineyard to fully bio-dynamic viticulture.

Production costs went down by 12 percent. Yields increased between 3 percent and 7 percent.

Beyond his work at the vineyard, Caspi tends the gardens of about 50 “member” neighbors in and around Oregon House. Because this is a rural community, Caspi can put a sign on the road saying “manure needed,” and loads are brought to him for fermenting.

The finished manure plus organic matter from garden waste, wood ash and olive paste all come from within a 10-mile radius. It returns to the members in the form of Caspi’s magical soil smoothie that retains water and nourishes roots.

In the garden, take a load off and don’t till. Then follow Caspi’s instructions.

Find a source of manure and compost. Lay a thick layer, up to 4 inches, on the ground and plant right into it. Apply plant by plant rather than over the entire garden. For tomatoes, dig a deep hole, water the hole until the water drains, fill the hole with a mix of chicken manure and compost, then a tomato seedling. Add a bit more nitrogen in the form of half a teaspoon of chicken manure when you dig the hole. Water once more.

How long can you go without added water? A week? A month? Water only if lack of moisture is detected by sticking a finger into the ground. “The first year is hardest,” Caspi says. “Don’t give up. If you fail, you try again.”

As to your own sense of food security, you can have a community-supported agriculture system on your street. “One person grows the potatoes, someone else grows the beans, and another person grows herbs,” Caspi explains. Everyone adds to the pile tended by the neighborhood compost geek. In a few years, the soil will be so absorptive it will gulp winter rainwater and retain it through summer.

Without access to the livestock that live near Caspi, there might be a cost for store-bought manure, unless you have a friend with a horse, a cow or chickens. When a crop is ready, deliveries begin in staggered availability.

With wells already stressed in the Sierra foothills, Caspi remains an Israeli at heart, tinkering for extra droplets of water in what he presumes is a terminal drought.

“The plant takes only what it needs,” Caspi says. “This is how it works in nature. If you don’t need it, why do you want to take it?”

To protect ourselves from food shortages and to buffer California’s agricultural economy, we all should regard any adjustments that allow us to grow food with less water as permanent.