What Will 2017 Mean for California Water Users?

What will 2017 mean for California water users and the farmers who need it to grow crops? california-water

Author: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

Winter across California has been a tale of two seasons in the past couple years.

Last year this time we were coming off a wet December. Little did we know at the time, but the taps would largely be in the “off” position for a couple months before faucets reopened and liquid gold began falling from the skies.

Knock on wood, that hasn’t happened. At least not yet.

Let’s hope it doesn’t.

Forecasters are calling for an “atmospheric river” to pummel California this week and bring continued blessings to a state parched by several years of severe drought conditions.

All this rain and snow is a good thing for Mediterranean Climate zones that produce the volume of food as California does.

The recent December freeze that kept citrus growers up at night wasn’t the blockbuster of previous seasons. Instead, it helped growers leave fruit on the trees rather than rush to harvest them.

Now they’re rushing as I write this because heavy rain is expected later this week in the San Joaquin Valley. The rain will put a temporary halt to citrus harvest as I’m told the fruit cannot be picked when it’s wet as it damages the fruit.

Meanwhile, tree nut growers were shaking their trees as part of their winter sanitation protocols to remove “mummy” nuts, a necessary activity to rob pests like the Navel orangeworm from a place to hunker down and over-winter.

Navel orangeworms, later in the growing season, can wreak havoc and cause yield losses in almonds and pistachios.

On the flip side of the natural water blessings California is experiencing, the State Water Board is moving ahead with plans to take half the natural flows from several key rivers used to irrigate millions of acres of farmland and produce billions of dollars’ worth of crops.

The decision isn’t final and likely won’t be until later in the year. Though thousands of farmers and others reliant on waters from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers spoke in unified opposition to the state’s plans, the looks on the faces of water board members at public hearings suggested they were simply going through the motions to do what they want, regardless of how damaging it will be to the state’s economy and the people who live here.

This certainly won’t be the only challenge farmer’s face in 2017. Regardless of whether Mother Nature calls an end to the climatic drought, regulators and lawmakers appear to be laser-focused on continuing their regulatory drought in California.

Time will tell how effective the promises of the upcoming Trump administration will be to pull back on the onerous rules, regulations and laws keeping California farmers from adequate water supplies.

Meanwhile, bring on the rain.

Full article shared from Western Farm Press website.

Drought Brings New Attention to Recycled Water

1.5 million acre-feet of recycled water to be contributed to the overall water supply by 2020 Water-Recycling

Author: Kate Campbell, AgAlert

Agricultural demand for recycled water is increasing along with the ability to supply it. But water experts say competition for access to the resource is rising—and say they’re unsure what the growing demand may mean for prices.

State water officials plan a survey of recycled water use in coming months—the first since 2009, when they estimated use of recycled water at 700,000 acre-feet. Results from the new survey could come early next year.

The State Water Resources Control Board is calling for recycled water to contribute 1.5 million acre-feet to the overall water supply by 2020 and at least 2.5 million acre-feet by 2030. Observers say the 2020 goal may be difficult to achieve, but say they’re more optimistic about reaching the 2030 standard.

Given drought pressures on California water supplies, Jennifer West of WateReuse California said she expects the upcoming survey to show an increase in the amount of recycled water being used statewide since the previous survey. In 2009, researchers found agriculture used nearly 40 percent of California’s recycled water supply, with landscape irrigation and groundwater recharge the next-most-popular uses.

West said the drought has increased the number of competing uses for recycled water and that negative public sentiment about its quality and use has diminished.

“Since the last survey, a lot has happened and there have been a lot of positive changes for water recycling,” she said. “Funding is available now through Proposition 1 (the water bond passed by California voters in 2014). There’s new technology and interest. I’m expecting the next survey will show a significant bump in all uses of recycled water.”

Because of adherence to strict water quality regulations for using recycled water on food crops, this irrigation option has a long history of safety, she said.

Danny Merkley, director of water resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said Farm Bureau supports use of recycled water as a supplemental supply. He said institutions that furnish recycled water for irrigation should be responsible for assuring and maintaining proper quality for the intended crop uses.

“State and federal governments should do everything they can to increase supplies of freshwater, but recycled water can be an important part of our portfolio for addressing the California water crisis,” he said.

Merkley noted that CFBF favors overall expansion of the available water supply through increased storage—both aboveground and underground—plus recycling, desalination and improvements in water use efficiency.

In an agreement approved last week, the city of Turlock joined the city of Modesto in a 40-year agreement to sell recycled water to the Del Puerto Water District, which provides irrigation water to about 45,000 agricultural acres on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley between Vernalis and Santa Nella.

The district relies on water delivered through the federal Central Valley Project, which cut deliveries to zero in 2014 and 2015, and to 5 percent this year.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signed the record of decision last week for what is being called the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program at the Del Puerto district office in Patterson, certifying the program’s federal environmental documents. Del Puerto will cover the estimated $100 million construction cost, including pipelines from the treatment plants to the federal Delta-Mendota Canal for delivery to contractors.

Interim water deliveries could begin as early as this summer, with as much as 30 percent of the district’s supply needs being met by 2018.

West estimated there are about 100 recycled-water projects on the drawing boards in California, all in various stages of development. Whether they will be online in time to meet the state’s strategic goals under its recycled-water policy is not known at this time, she said.

Water district managers are increasingly looking at water supply options, she said, and recycled water projects can provide cities both a new revenue source and new ways to manage the discharge of treated water.

Recycled water beneficial uses vary considerably around the state, the Department of Water Resources found in its 2009 survey, and West said she expects new survey results will reveal continued diversification in the uses of recycled water.

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, said recycled water can come from a variety of sources, including treated urban wastewater and oilfield-produced water. No matter the source, he said, “it’s required to be high quality, treated water that meets every standard set by state water quality officials.”

On land north of Bakersfield, the Cawelo Water District and North Kern Water Storage District are currently working with the oil industry to use treated water on crops, Wade said.

The districts have been delivering water for more than 50 years to irrigate about 45,000 acres in Kern County, including irrigation water to about 34,000 acres of orchards, vineyards and field and row crops.

Oilfield-produced water is the byproduct of oil production, Wade said, and has been used in the growing region without any health or environmental issues.

Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert.

Full article shared from AgAlert, with credit to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The Winners, Losers of El Nino in the West

While it hasn’t lived up to the full hype, El Nino has been good for Arizona and California

ElNino-California-ArizonaAuthor: Cary Blake, Western Farm Press

El Niño-related rain and snow falls last fall, winter, and early this spring have been on the sporadic side. Yet we should be (and are) thankful for the fallen moisture from the heavens. The Pacific Ocean-based warmer water phenomenon tossed more than a couple of buckets of rain and snow at California and Arizona – both facing severe drought.

Portions of California were blest with a decent version of the much prayed for (and overall delivered) “March Miracle” which will benefit farms, ranches, and others. Yet the 2015-2016 El Niño version failed to live up to its hype, as one media outlet called it a potential ‘Godzilla’ El Niño.

The weather folks, as did farmers and ranchers, certainly wanted a behemoth El Niño, yet part of the weather pattern lost its strength once it moved inland from the warmer ocean waters in the southern Pacific where it began.

Initially some thought that this El Niño would leap over most of California and begin dumping wetness on Arizona, followed by moisture in the southern-most states to the east.

Arizonans were ecstatic when rare El Niño rains actually began late last spring into the early summer, very rare moisture in the low desert. Even the summer monsoon season in the Grand Canyon State blossomed into a near gully washer in some areas, tied in part to El Niño.

Afterwards, portions of California received hit-and-miss liquid and frozen manna from the heavens. Good rains in Arizona in early January boosted crop hopes. Yet as I pen this, central Arizona has remained high and dry since late January (two months ago).

Warm weather and clear skies parched thoughts of a wet February in both states. A journalist from a major California newspaper proclaimed El Niño a dud – a.k.a. caput. Yet a week or so later in early March, meteorologists were all high-fives as a major weather front developed – and targeted its downpours on California. Arizona was left high and dry.

Many Californians have enjoyed the timely rains as reservoir levels have risen, while entirely too much water, for political and regulatory reasons, have drained into the ocean – a disgusting sight for water-starved agriculture.

Overall, El Niño turned out positive. Let’s hope it has a storm or two left this spring.

Full article shared from Western Farm Press

California Snowpack Larger Than Average

Water experts and farmers still cautious for the long-term outlook

Author: Kate Campbell, Ag Alert

California-SnowpackWith the Sierra Nevada snowpack standing at or above average going into what typically is the year’s key period for precipitation, California farmers and ranchers are watching the skies and hoping for a dent in the state’s multi-year drought. But memories of past winters that started strongly, then fizzled, leave farmers and water experts cautious.
When the state Department of Water Resources took the season’s first manual survey of the snowpack last week, it found water content of the snow at the survey site had reached 136 percent of the long-term average. Snow sensors placed throughout the Sierra put the statewide water content at 105 percent.
Forecasts of additional storms in the first week of January brought further cause for optimism—especially in the wake of the bone-dry January of a year ago—but DWR Director Mark Cowin cautioned that another three or four months of surveys will be needed to indicate “whether the snowpack’s runoff will be sufficient to replenish California’s reservoirs by this summer.”
For example, Lake Oroville in Butte County, the principal State Water Project reservoir, now holds about 47 percent of its historical average for the date. Lake Shasta north of Redding, the largest reservoir in the federal Central Valley Project, stands at about 50 percent of average storage, while San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-delta holding facility for both the SWP and CVP, remains at 30 percent of average.
State water officials said it will be difficult to rebuild those storage levels quickly.
In average years, the Sierra snowpack provides about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts each summer.
“One thing that puts a smile on my face is looking east and seeing snow on the mountains,” Kern County farmer Pete Belluomini said. “The last couple of years, we’ve been watching the snowpack and it was bleak, but now things are looking more positive.”
Belluomini said farmers in his area have already heard from their local irrigation districts that, if the drought situation doesn’t improve, they can expect less irrigation water in 2016.
“We’re planning for the worst-case scenario and hoping it doesn’t come to that,” he said.
“Farmers have been forced to be thrifty and smart,” Belluomini added. “They’ve figured out ways to save water and I hope will continue to use those conservation techniques and ideas as part of everyday life, not just life in an emergency. That’s how our company thinks, and the drought offered lessons we’ve learned.”
With the El Niño weather pattern offering the prospect of additional storms reaching California beginning this month, California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley urged operators of state and federal water projects to take full advantage of storm flows.
“Any rainstorms that create flows in excess of what is necessary for the ecosystem, fish, delta water quality and vested water users must be diverted to surface storage and good groundwater recharge areas, rather than being allowed to flow into the Pacific Ocean,” Merkley said.
The prospect of a rebuilding Sierra snowpack also underlines the need for California to update its “aging water infrastructure,” he said, to capture flows in future wet years that can provide water to farms, cities and the environment during prolonged dry periods.
“Upper watershed management, new water storage facilities, groundwater recharge and being sure to operate facilities for today’s weather conditions and environmental policies are all necessary tools in the 21st century,” Merkley said.
Taking advantage of excess flows during times of plenty is also key to recharging groundwater basins, he noted.
In his area, Belluomini said, groundwater levels appear to be stabilizing.
“We seem to have found an equilibrium with our groundwater and we’re cautiously optimistic about our water supply going into this year,” he said.
Colusa County farmer John Garner, who chairs the CFBF Water Advisory Committee, said the drought should have taught California that the state must be “truly honest” about its water needs.
“Our current water storage capacity is not adequate to serve all of California, and that has been true for decades,” he said. “I don’t see that reality changing in the future—even with full reservoirs. We need water infrastructure that allows for more storage and flexibility in our water supply management system.”
Merkley said the Proposition 1 water bond approved by California voters in November 2014 provides $2.7 billion in money for water storage, which he described as “a down payment” on needed development. He said Farm Bureau has been working with the California Water Commission on its Water Storage Investment Program, to identify projects that would have the largest impact on statewide water infrastructure.
Later this year, Merkley said, the Water Commission will finalize the regulations needed to allow competitive review of the projects submitted for funding.
“We will continue to urge the commission to move the process along as expeditiously as possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Phillips Station in the Sierra, where DWR conducted its manual snow survey, survey chief Frank Gehrke said the snowpack is “much better” than it was last year at this time.
“If we believe the forecasts, then El Niño is supposed to kick in as we move through the rest of the winter,” Gehrke said. “That will be critical when it comes to looking at reservoir storage.”
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.