CIRS Blog about Rural California
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.
In the last fiscal year alone, 368,644 immigrants were removed from the United States. Since 2009, the number of deported immigrants is more than 1.9 million and as deportation rates have increased throughout the Obama administration, President Obama, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) have received harsh criticism for their immigration enforcement policies. At his 2013 year-end press conference Obama said, “immigration reform is probably the biggest thing I wanted to get done this year.” Even if federal legislation continues to stall, 2014 marks 50 years since the termination of the Bracero Program and as we revisit the Bracero period, we have the opportunity to honor the tremendous labor sacrifices of both the Braceros and the immigrant farmworkers that serve as the backbone of America's agricultural economy.
From the Spanish word “brazo,” meaning “arm,” the Braceros were 4.6 million Mexican nationals who worked legally in the United States from 1942-1964 under the largest guest worker program in U.S. history, the Bracero Program, formally known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program. Infill the World War II labor shortage. The the majority worked as field laborers in agriculture. These Unsung Heroes supported America’s war effort by providing food aid for the Allied Forces and following
This article is adapted from a presentation on Food Justice given to the American Planning Association California Chapter meeting in Visalia, CA in 2013.
When addressing food justice, there are several issues farm workers deal with. The two to be discussed here are: access to food and cost of food. When addressing planning issues for rural regions in the context of food justice, we need to review what the barriers are to farm worker justice in the built environment and develop ideas for improvement.
PLANNING ISSUES TO KEEP IN MIND
• Where do laborers work and where do they live?
• How does this affect housing, transportation and food access?
• How do we balance farmland preservation and affordable housing for workers?
• What does transit oriented development mean in creation of affordable and accessible transport in rural regions?
FOR THE FARMWORKER POPULATION, WHAT DOES FOOD JUSTICE MEAN?
In 2007, CIRS completed a study in Fresno of farm worker food security. We found that 45% of the workers interviewed in the most productive agricultural county in the US, are food insecure. We conducted a similar study in the Salinas Valley (America’s Salad Bowl) and found a staggering 66% of workers interviewed were food insecure.
It has been 23 years since workers at a massive farming company in Fresno, Calif., led by labor icon Cesar Chavez, organized and voted to have the United Farm Workers union represent them.
Certifying a union does not guarantee a contract, and in the decades since the UFW came to Gerawan Farming, laborers have picked and sorted peaches and grapes without one. As the years have passed, many of the Gerawan workers who worked to unionize have moved on.
It has been so long that, just as a contract finally appeared to be forthcoming this year, some workers clamored to strip the UFW of its right to represent Gerawan workers. While union officials contend workers were prodded by management, the workers who repudiate the UFW ask where the union has been all these years.
"We got surprised because we never knew the union" represented us, said Silvia Lopez, a 15-year employee who has organized the UFW decertification campaign. "So many years working here, and then they show up and say they have a union there."
The situation at Gerawan is raising questions about whether California's landmark agricultural labor law, a signature achievement of Gov. Jerry Brown's first tenure, is working as intended to expedite contract disputes.
"Her skin became red and itchy. Her eyes burned. Her hair started falling out. Her family had the same symptoms ... [others] were dying, " California Watch reports. This sounds like a tragic nightmare, but it was a reality for Sonia Lopez, a farmworker who lives in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley area.
She and thousands of other farmworkers in this area have been unknowingly drinking nitrate-contaminated water, which has led to these severe symptoms.
These and other farmworkers have been neglected and allowed to suffer on their own. The state government needs to intervene and offer them some relief.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California is responsible for about 15 percent of the United States' fresh produce.
San Joaquin Valley
The eight-county San Joaquin Valley had four million residents in 2012, a labor force of 1.8 million, and an unemployment rate of 15 percent. There are 62 cities in the 25,000-square mile San Joaquin Valley.
Most San Joaquin Valley counties and cities have economic development agencies to speed the creation of middle-class jobs that pay at least $15 an hour or $30,000 a year. Several types of industries are targeted for "good jobs," including food processing, logistics, manufacturing and renewable energy. Living costs and wages are lower in the San Joaquin Valley than in coastal California, but many San Joaquin Valley workers lack the education needed to perform jobs offering higher wages, which deters some of those looking to relocate from moving their operations to the San Joaquin Valley.
Every year at Thanksgiving I am reminded of the people who grow and harvest our food. I am constantly immersed in research on the food system and the people who work in it but thinking about the food on my table and how it got there is especially poignant at feast time. In California we are blessed with abundant year round locally grown nuts, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables. The farmers and hired workers who labor to produce this food that feeds our nation do so under challenging conditions.
By Marty Graham
The 14-acre certified organic farm at the south edge of the San Pasqual Academy is surrounded by commercial farms, orange and grape trees on three sides.
It’s a rich metaphor for the academy itself, an organic local effort that’s meant to anchor its community to healthy food, one that’s grown jobs and centered the way the students live.
And it has been more than a farm. According to San Diego organic farmer Scott Murray, who helped launch the farm, it is a hands on part of what the academy tries to teach its residents, teenagers in the county foster care system who have run out of housing options and are within a few years of aging out of the system.
PALM DESERT —The Coachella Valley Water District voted to scrap its at-large election system on Tuesday after a complaint by a group of voters that argued the system violated the California Voting Rights Act and was unfair to Latino residents.
The water agency’s five-member board voted unanimously to make the change, joining a growing list of cities and school districts across California that have similarly altered how elections are held in response to legal challenges.