CIRS Blog about Rural California
WASHINGTON — Beneath a placid surface, California lawmakers are furiously churning to keep an anti-drought bill afloat.
They’re counting votes, making tradeoffs and tinkering with language. They’re confronting singular political calculations like: Will a Lake Mead provision for Nevada, home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, cause problems with other Democrats upstream in Colorado?
And, no mean feat, they are meeting.
Last week, he issued his second proclamation of drought emergency since the start of the year. In doing so, he called out the likely connection between the drought and climate change, stating, “We are playing Russian Roulette with our environment.”
The Governor’s proclamation orders expedited actions and eases regulations across key state agencies and local actors, including the Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Water Resources, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and local homeowners associations.
In addressing the needs of water users across the state, it is clear the Governor faces some tough decisions for managing drought impacts on farms, cities, and the environment. Too timid a response could leave water users stranded; too heavy a hand could hurt regulatory authority and damage fragile ecosystems already crippled by drought.
The Governor has gone for a balance between these approaches, and last Friday’s executive order has largely been praised by stakeholders across the spectrum.
So what does the Governor’s second set of drought orders mean for California’s farms and ranches?
Flying Mule Farm is a family-owned commercial sheep operation located in Auburn, California co-founded by Dan and Samia Macon. Dan is a lifelong resident of the Sierra Nevada Foothills and has a degree in agriculture economics from UC Davis. Because of this year's historic drought in California, and dry years since 2007, the Macons have had to make several changes and reductions to the size of the flock. Below is a personal story of how the drought is affecting Dan and his family's ability to make a living. For more information on the Macons and Flying Mule Farm please check out the Flying Mule Farm website , Facebook page and Dan Macon's personal blog .
Audio courtesy of the UCDavisPlants Soundcloud
Last week, a prominent environmental group released its annual report identifying the top ten “endangered” streams and rivers nationwide—waterways that are at a crossroads politically, where key upcoming decisions will have major impacts for better or worse. California’s San Joaquin River, the second longest river in the state, is #1 on the list due to the historical and ongoing impacts of state water infrastructure, and major proposals to expand this infrastructure in the future. Flowing 330 miles, the River begins in the Sierra Nevada mountains and meanders through the San Joaquin Valley toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is part of the largest estuary on the west coast. Tributaries to the San Joaquin include the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, Calaveras, and Mokelumne Rivers. The 10,000 square mile San Joaquin Valley receives little rainfall on average, but historical river flows have been maintained by seasonal snow melt from the Sierras. This area is the most agriculturally productive region in the country; the San Joaquin Valley supports upwards of $25 billion in food crops annually. The San Joaquin River provides important transportation corridors for agricultural products and since the early 1900s, the river has been routinely dredged to allow large cargo ships to navigate.
It is well documented that major changes to the Delta and the San Joaquin River have resulted from human activities, especially water diversions and other infrastructure that captures and transports water away from the Delta to drier parts of the state. Some studies estimate less than five percent of the native biodiversity of the Delta remains, with the tidal marsh habitats being most degraded. Chinook salmon and other native fish struggle to maintain healthy population levels as aquatic habitat areas along the San Joaquin (and many other waterways in and near the Delta) have been degraded and blocked by in-stream water diversions and monumental structures like dams.
Water diversions and stream barriers reduce flows and physically alter the surrounding habitat areas. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, many of these alterations and changes will be permanent: [t]he characteristics of the earlier Delta that are likely gone forever include (1) physical habitat appropriate for species that tend to rely on shallow water and structure for refuge and feeding; (2) food aggregation that long, complex sloughs and channels provide through increased production and retention, and (3) cooling functions that adjacent wetlands provide for small water bodies, such as sloughs, which provide refuge for fishes during summer heat spells.
WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley lobbying priorities this week can be summed up simply.
“Water, water, water,” Brenda Veenendaal, senior regional planner with the Fresno Council of Governments, said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
In separate, but overlapping lobbying trips that formally began Monday, officials from both Fresno and Tulare counties have been seeking support from elected lawmakers, all-important staff and Obama administration higher-ups. These are annual ventures that this year took on a different, wetter cast.
Water projects and drought relief now top the Fresno County COG wish list, which in previous years emphasized roads and rail. In some ways, the state’s well-documented drought emergency has simplified the Valley officials’ sales job, as bipartisan congressional action actually seems possible.
“It seems like they are starting to come out of their bunkers,” said Amarpreet Dhaliwal, mayor of the city of San Joaquin and chair of the Fresno COG Policy Board. “There seems to be some thawing, a little bit of movement.”
California is experiencing a long term drought. As a result, CIRS is examining various aspects of the California water system. This week, we are looking at a desert region where per capita water use is the highest in the state for a non-industrial area at 736 gallons per person per day.
(Graphic from of the San jome Mercury News)
The Coachella Valley is located in eastern Riverside County, California. The entire valley sits in the basin north of the Salton Sea bounded by various strands of the very active San Andreas Fault System. The San Andreas Fault traverses the Valley's east side. The Santa Rosa Mountains to the West are part of the Elsinore Fault Zone.The Inland Empire-Salton Trough region is geologically and seismologically the most complex part of the San Andreas Fault system in southern California. Over the past 15 million years, several strands of the main San Andreas Fault have moved coastal California northwestward in relation to the desert interior. The trough of the Coachella Valley is surrounded by mountain ranges rising up to 11,000 feet in elevation while the valley floor drops to 250 feet below sea level at its lowest around the town of Mecca. In the summer, daytime temperatures range from 104 ° F to 112 ° F and winter temperatures range from 68 F to 88 F making the Coachella Valley a very popular winter resort. The Valley is the northwestern extension of the Sonoran Desert to the southeast and is extremely arid. The majority of rainfall occurs during the winter months. Rain may sometimes fall during the summer months as a result of the desert monsoon.
Despite producing mixed results for sustainable agriculture interests, President Obama’s 2015 budget request is an encouraging sign that the federal government is getting serious about climate change, and particularly about adapting to its impacts.
The President’s proposal includes a $1 billion dollar Climate Resilience Fund, which is intended to strengthen preparedness of states and communities for increasingly extreme weather like floods, droughts, and wildfires. The fund would support investment in research, technologies, and infrastructure across numerous agencies and sectors, including agriculture.
Of course, we need not look far to find proof of the urgent need for such an initiative.
Word of the fund first came out in February, when Obama met with growers and ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of drought-stricken California. While touring the farm of Joe and Maria Del Bosque, who have fallowed their melon fields due to water shortages, the President emphasized the role federal support could play in alleviating drought impacts and preparing for the future.
“A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are potentially going to be costlier,” he noted, “And they’re going to be harsher.”
California’s drought has moved far beyond “severe,” and is making national and international headlines because of its far-reaching impacts. Most areas of the state are officially in “extreme” drought, with key coastal regions and agricultural areas in the Central Valley experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions. Political leaders scrambled to pass legislative relief packages as it became clear that the state would have another unusually dry winter. State and local officials have asked residents to reduce water use in homes and businesses. Meanwhile, major state and federal water projects have completely shut off water deliveries to already parched urban areas and agricultural agencies due to inadequate supply.
Impact of California’s drought on farmworkers
The effects of this year’s drought in California are being discussed in both statewide and national media. California produces vegetables, fruits, nuts and dairy products for most of the country and for international export. Debate rages about what foods use the most water, what products will be most affected and how consumer food bills will increase. One of the groups of people most seriously impacted by the reduction in planting but least discussed is the farmworker population.
Farm laborers are already one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population and the drought this year will put them even more at risk. The average annual income for a farmworker is $13,800. This places many farmworkers at risk for hunger, poor housing and subsequent health impacts. In some rural California communities that rely almost exclusively on agriculture for work, unemployment rates are already high, even at peak season.
By Adam Kotin and Dru Marion
On January 31, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that no water would be delivered this year from the State Water Project to its twenty-nine public water agency customers — a first in the Project’s 54-year history. These deliveries help supply water to 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. DWR also announced that allocations to Sacramento Valley agricultural districts would be cut in half.
The current drought, which continues to smash records statewide, has inspired a litany of articles and musings on the drought of 1976-1977. To be sure, there are some striking similarities between our current predicament and the dire situation 37 years ago – including the fact that then, as now, Jerry Brown was the fellow declaring the emergency.
But California has often endured water scarcity throughout its history, and each occasion has brought its own challenges. Out of those challenges have come valuable lessons, and as the current dry spell becomes more severe it is worth remembering – and learning from – the state’s long history of unpredictable weather fluctuations.
This is the final of four briefs on California’s water infrastructure by CIRS and partners. The first explained California’s surface water infrastructure. The second focused on ground water management. The third brief addressed water quality and this brief will summarize significant proposals to address California’s water needs. The goal of these short papers is to provide a road map to understanding the conversation around California water issues. All briefs will be featured on the Rural California Report and will be available as downloadable files. Here is a PDF version of the fourth brief: CAWaterProposalsbrief.pdf
California has been at the vanguard of environmental law and policy for over a century. The state adapts and expands these policies and laws as new information and technologies become available, and as previously unknown (or nonexistent) environmental issues emerged. The earliest water projects favored heavy-duty infrastructure like dams and canals to capture, control, and transport water from the wetter areas of the state to more populous and agricultural areas. California’s extensive surface water storage and delivery infrastructure originated with studies conducted in the 1870s, and with construction of dams and canals that began a few decades later. Subsequent water projects and public investments in water tended to build upon and improve existing infrastructure; a trend which continues until today. Public water projects are complicated by a legacy of convoluted private water rights that started during the Gold Rush era and further developed in courtroom battles between private landowners.
However, our economic, social, and scientific understandings of water have improved substantially over the years. While dozens of water issues are extremely important, a recent study revealed that most water experts agree that improved management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water supply network is paramount. This study also identified the next four priorities to address: dysfunctional institutions at all levels of water governance, an unsustainable water supply, poorly managed groundwater, and the effects of climate change and flood risk. State government leaders are currently considering several proposals to address some of these concerns.
This is the third of four briefs on California’s water infrastructure by CIRS and partners. The first explained California’s surface water infrastructure. The second focused on ground water management. This brief will address water quality and the fourth will summarize significant proposals to address California’s water needs. The goal of these short papers is to provide a road map to understanding the conversation around California water issues. All briefs will be featured on the Rural California Report and will be available as downloadable files. Here is a PDF version of the third brief: RuralWaterQualitybrief.pdf
Water quality management in California
As with storage and delivery, water quality is managed at the local, state and federal levels. The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) administers many of California’s water programs through the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB). The SWRCB operates through nine Regional Water Resources Control Boards (RWCBs) under authority from California’s main water quality law, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.While the SWRCB and RWCBs (together “State Water Boards”) are the primary agencies enforcing water quality laws and regulations in California, literally hundreds of other agencies and authorities are involved with water quality issues at some level, collaborating to develop and manage programs aimed at understanding and improving water quality statewide. Major state agencies that manage key water quality programs include the CA Department of Public Health (CA DPH) which ensures the quality of public drinking water, and the CA Natural Resources Agency.
California’s multi-agency approach to water quality relies on delegated authority, which allows states to develop regulations and programs that meet or exceed applicable federal standards. For example, the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) apply to California waters, and the U.S. Congress authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set water quality based standards and develop programs and regulations to maintain and improve water quality over time. EPA delegated authority to CalEPA to enforce major aspects of the CWA and SDWA. CalEPA divides this authority further between the State Water Boards and CA DPH, which often work closely with other agencies and local authorities to understand issues and implement programs that are authorized and funded under both state and federal law.
By Annie Beaman and Poppy Davis
This is the second of four briefs on California’s water infrastructure by CIRS and partners. This brief focuses on ground water management. A third brief will address water quality and the fourth will summarize significant proposals to address California’s water needs. The goal of these short papers is to provide a road map to understanding the conversation around California water issues. All briefs will be featured on the Rural California Report and will be available as downloadable files. Here is a PDF version of this brief: CA-Groundwater-Storage-and-Delivery-Brief.pdf
Importance: Over 850 million acre feet of water is stored in the state’s 450+ groundwater reservoirs. Groundwater is a critical resource in California, supplying an average of 30-40% of total water statewide, and upwards of 60-70% in dry conditions. California consumes far more groundwater than any other state, pumping an average of 10-15 billion gallons per day.
Recharge: Groundwater recharge occurs naturally when surface water from precipitation, rivers and streams, and irrigation runoff percolates through the soil to aquifers. Aquifers are underground formations of permeable rock that can contain and transmit groundwater. Artificial recharge programs allow excess surface water to be stored and released slowly through canals, irrigation furrows or sprinkler systems, or spread on dedicated recharge fields for percolation into these same underground “reservoirs.” In some cases, water is injected directly into the subsurface via wells.
Overdraft: Groundwater overdraft occurs when water is withdrawn at a faster rate than it can be replenished. Aquifer levels change from year to year based on environmental and other factors, and regular monitoring combined with responsible management can prevent long-term groundwater depletion. Overdraft contributes significantly to water quality problems in aquifers[i] and salinization of coastal aquifers, because the effects of groundwater pollution and sea water intrusion are magnified when water levels are low. Overdraft can also cause subsidence, wherein the land above depleted aquifers sinks downward. Imported water from statewide water programs can supplement the total amount of water available for use in overdrafted areas, but can rarely restore underground water levels completely.[ii]
Management: Groundwater is managed locally in California; there is no statewide law that governs the use or management of this resource, nor any requirement that local authorities report their activities to the state.[iii] Literally hundreds of local water agencies and authorities oversee groundwater delivery infrastructure including pumping wells and irrigation systems. Under common law, private landowners have “overlying” or “correlative” rights to use groundwater, meaning that each owner may operate wells and irrigation systems that use “reasonable” amounts of water for “beneficial” purposes—broad categories that generally lack statewide regulation or oversight.[iv] California is the only remaining western state without a statewide groundwater management system in place. Instead, disputes over groundwater are addressed at the local level and by courts.
The largest water projects in the state are the Central Valley Project (CVP) a Federal project administered by the Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) of the Department of the Interior, and the State Water Project (SWP) a project of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). There are multiple smaller projects under both the BoR and the DWR.The CVP includes 22 reservoirs with a combined storage of 11 million acre-feet, of which 7 million acre-feet is delivered in an average year. The SWP includes 34 storage facilities, reservoirs and lakes; 20 pumping plants; 4 pumping-generating plants; 5 hydroelectric power plants; and about 701 miles of open canals and pipelines. It has a total storage 5.8 million acre-feet, and typically delivers about 3 million acre-feet a year. The CVP and SWP deliver water to local water projects who serve end users.
“Water projects” are made up of multiple facilities and contractual relationships. The role of the BoR or DWR is to finance construction with an appropriation or a bond, and to build and own the infrastructure. Local agencies enter into contracts to pay back the construction costs, and cover annual operations and maintenance costs. These “contractors” receive annual allocations of the water from the project; which they manage locally. Contractors may purchase water from multiple sources and may make arrangements to store or bank an annual surplus within the project. In a dry year different contractors on the same project may not feel equal pain, because some contractors may be able to use or purchase “banked” water and others may be receiving only a fraction (or none) of their normal allocation. “Exchange Contractors” are property owners whose contract rights to project water were received in exchange for enabling the project by surrendering their original water rights.
FRESNO — Hmong parents and community members gathered for a listening session here last month where they weighed in on the debate over how local school districts should be allocating their state funds. By the end of the discussion, the message was clear: a lack of translation services for Hmong speakers is the greatest barrier to that community’s engagement with Fresno Unified (FUSD) schools.
“When I go (to school meetings), I feel like I’m an outcast,” said Yeng Xiong, a mother of two and a native Hmong speaker. Xiong said she still attends the school meetings, even though there is never a translator for her.
Hmong youth make up the second largest group of English Language Learner (ELL) students in FUSD, with Spanish-speaking students being the largest, according to the California Department of Education. Hmong are the largest Asian ethnic group in the City of Fresno, with a population of 31,771, or 3.6 percent of the city’s total population, according to 2010 census figures. In the U.S., only Minneapolis boasts a larger Hmong community (64,422) than Fresno.
Following several fallow years, the House on Wednesday gave final approval to a 900-plus page farm and food stamp package that sustains California’s famed specialty crops, commodities and university researchers. The nation’s largest and most unique farm state, California gets multi-faceted attention in the long-stalled bill.
“For my home state of California, this farm bill is a dramatic investment,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said Wednesday, adding that “this debate has gone on for far too long.”
The Wall Street Journal profiled the city of Fresno's bleak finances October 31, 2013. Fresno, a city of 500,000 residents, had the least cash on hand of any of the 250 largest US cities. Fresno had less than a day's reserves, compared with a median 80+ days for large US cities.
One cause of Fresno's cash crunch is a $26 million convention-center garage that lost business to new facilities at California State University, Fresno in the northern part of the city. Garage deficits were financed in part by borrowing from other city funds. Eventually, the city began to lay off employees, some 1,200 or 30 percent of its 4,200 workers, between 2009 and 2013.
By Dru Marion and Adam Kotin, California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN)
Growers across California are among the first to feel the effects of the worst drought the state has seen in almost four decades. Mandated cutbacks in water distributions, along with depletions in available surface water and groundwater, are forcing farmers to dig deeper into their pockets while making tough decisions about crop planting and livestock management.
Generally, California relies on a few infrequent yet significant storms that make their way south from the Pacific Northwest during the winter months. This year, however, a warm and dry high-pressure system has lingered above the California coast since November, blocking storms that typically drop early winter precipitation across the state.
Within the San Joaquin Valley’s eight counties, there are over 220 low-income unincorporated communities (UniComs) that lack basic infrastructure (e.g., sidewalks, parks, streetlights) and reliable access to public services (e.g., public safety officials, healthy drinking water) for their nearly 500,000 residents. In 2007, The California Endowment funded California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) and PolicyLink to identify and document these UniComs and analyze and present to stakeholders and researchers the UniComs’ patterns of inequity and health disparities, some of which are unique to each county’s political and economic landscape, and some of which reflect larger patterns and trends that play out across the region, state and nation.
California had farm sales of $44.7 billion in 2012, led by $6.6 billion Fresno county, $6.2 billion in Kern county, and $6.2 billion in Tulare county.
The leading commodities were milk, worth $6.9 billion in 2012, grapes worth $4.4 billion, almonds worth $4.3 billion, greenhouse and nursery commodities worth $3.5 billion, cattle worth $3.3 billion, strawberries worth $1.9 billion, lettuce worth $1.4 billion, walnuts worth $1.3 billion, and hay and tomatoes each worth $1.2 billion.
Lettuce growers thin fields to ensure full heads of lettuce. Blue River Technology has developed a so-called Lettuce Bot that kills unwanted plants with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer.
The Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association, which represents 3,000 growers who produce 90 percent of US raisins, is negotiating a 2013 price with raisin processors. Growers produced 311,000 tons of raisins in 2012 and received $1,900 a ton, up from $1,700 a ton in 2010. The 2013 raisin crop is expected to be larger than in 2012, which has prompted the RBA to propose a lower grower price of $1,700 if the 2013 crop is more than 350,000 tons.