Thursday, June 25, 2015

Almond board pushes back against criticism

With drought-related water cutbacks causing many an urban lawn to go brown, environmentalists -- perhaps most notably those in advocacy organizations disguised as news media -- have seized on the opportunity to try to blame almond producers for using too much water and (gasp!) sending their product overseas. The Almond Board of California is pushing back, announcing today a $2.5 million commitment to production research that includes studies on irrigation efficiency and honeybee health.

From the almond board's press release:
Today, the Almond Board of California (ABC) announced a $2.5 million dollar commitment to independent, third-party research into next-generation farming practices. The funding is part of an ongoing effort by the almond community to develop innovative production practices that lead to continued improvement in efficient and sustainable1 farming.

Today's funding approval follows a natural progression of research efforts by the Almond Board that enable almond growers be good stewards of the land. In the last two decades, industry-funded research overseen by ABC allowed farmers to reduce the amount of water they use per pound of almonds by 33 percent2. It has also helped develop orchard practices that better promote healthy environments for honey bees.

"We've made great strides in building a sustainable industry over the past 40 years," said Almond Board CEO Richard Waycott. "Because of the industry's commitment to research and efficiency, growers use 33% less water to grow a pound of almonds than they did two decades ago. Today's investment will fuel the next round of innovation to ensure we continue to grow healthy, nutritious food while improving water efficiency and continuing to protect our pollination partners."
Waycott mentioned the blame game in a conference call with reporters, saying: "We've been caught up in the blame game and the shame game. We feel that's not a comfortable place to be, but I think our industry has done a lot (to conserve) ... We're focusing on the future and on solutions."

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hot weather to return to north state this week

After a brief respite, sizzling summer weather is expected to return to the north state later this week, according to the National Weather Service.

Here's the lowdown, courtesy of the agency's Sacramento office:
Hot temperatures and Increasing Fire Danger

Impacts
Heat-related illnesses and impacts possible to likely if action not taken
Extra heat precautions should be made for outdoor events
Hot and dry conditions are priming fuels for enhanced fire danger
Initially dry mountain thunderstorms with lightning could cause fire starts

Forecast Confidence
High for heat
Medium for mountain thunderstorms

Timing and Strength
Thursday + Friday 100-112 degrees Valley
Warm lows in the 70s North Sacramento Valley
Mountain thunderstorms afternoons and evenings Friday into the weekend

Weather Summary
Hot weather returns late this week, with above normal temperatures by Tuesday and widespread triple digits in the Valley by Thursday. The hottest day of the week is expected to be Friday, gradually cooling over the weekend. A special concern for the heat is the large crowds at the US Senior Open in Sacramento. Moisture spreading northward Friday into the weekend will bring the potential for mountain thunderstorms with limited rainfall initially. A transition to wetter storms is possible as we move through the weekend.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Caucus cheers as USFS buries groundwater rule

From the Congressional Western Caucus:
Today the U.S. Forest Service announced full withdrawal of the Proposed Directive on Groundwater Management. The directive, which was proposed in May of 2014, was finally withdrawn after a bipartisan effort to stop the directive and protect the longstanding and effective state management of these waters.

Western Caucus Chairman Cynthia Lummis (WY-at large) and Vice Chairman Scott Tipton (CO-03) issued the following statements in response:

“The grounds for the proposed directive were never established, but the danger quickly became clear: a federal grab at the expense of state authority and private water rights,” said Chairman Lummis. “State led groundwater management isn’t just the law of the land, it’s the tried-and-true method to manage groundwater. While I appreciate the Forest Service withdrawing the directive, the Service and all federal agencies for that matter should think twice when they get a wild hair to force their way into areas reserved to the states, especially the lifeblood of western communities: our water.”

“It’s welcome news that the Forest Service has officially backed away from this ill-fated attempt to drastically expand control over groundwater and private water rights. This Directive would have been especially harmful to the countless farmers and ranchers who rely on access to their private water rights to produce the crops that feed our nation and earn a living,” said Vice-Chairman Tipton. “This is a win for all private water rights users, but short of a legislative solution such as the Water Rights Protection Act to provide permanent protections, we will continue to see similar attempts by the Administration to exert control over private water rights.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fewer eggs being produced in California, says USDA

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:
California poultry farmers produced 311 million eggs in April 2015, down 9 million from March and down 78 million from April 2014. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Region Poultry Report, the average number of chickens producing eggs remained the same from March to April, but was down 21 percent from last year.
I'll be delving into the reasons for this decline. Watch for my story at CapitalPress.com in the coming days.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Shasta cold-water plan complicates ag deliveries

The federal government's need to keep cold water in Shasta Lake for fish could complicate the timing and quantity of remaining deliveries to farms and other water users along the Sacramento River, agencies are explaining in a conference call with reporters happening now.

Here is the news release, courtesy of the State Water Resources Control Board:
State and federal officials today announced the outlines of a revised plan for managing water flows in the Sacramento River for cities and farms while keeping enough cold water in Shasta Reservoir to avoid high temperatures in the river that could be catastrophic for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon.

The Sacramento River Temperature Management Plan, which is required annually, guides the release of water from Shasta Reservoir to maintain healthy fisheries during the summer and fall, when water temperatures rise. In this fourth year of extended drought, with low reservoir storage levels and higher-than-normal predicted summer temperatures, the plan seeks to prevent another catastrophic loss of this year’s class of juvenile salmon. Federal and state fish agencies believe such a loss would have devastating impacts to the long-term viability of this important species of native salmon.

“Changes in Shasta operations will have a system-wide effect on Central Valley Project and State Water Project operations and water supplies,” said David Murillo, regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), which operates Shasta Reservoir, California’s largest reservoir. “Every effort will be made to minimize the water supply effects of the adjusted operations and to ensure that water is provided to meet community needs.”

Changing releases from Shasta Reservoir this summer will affect operations of the federal and state water projects and the ability of Reclamation to deliver water to long-time water rights holders, although the extent of these impacts has not yet been quantified. Coordinating with the state and federal fishery agencies, Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources, which operate the projects, will rely on rigorous real-time management and system flexibility to minimize impacts on water users.

“The situation is grim for everyone and everything. The winter-run Chinook salmon may not survive losses in the Sacramento River similar to last year. At the same time, the situation is dire for California’s urban water users and agricultural communities,” said Charlton H. Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This historic drought continues to force hard decisions on how to allocate limited water supplies to meet ecological, urban and agricultural needs.”

Last year, despite modeling indicating that temperature control could be maintained, temperature targets were not achieved in the upper reaches of the river late in the season, resulting in the death of nearly all 2014 wild juvenile winter-run salmon.

Earlier this year, farming and environmental stakeholders came together with government scientists and water officials to agree on a compromise plan that would have released water for use by cities and farms but in the amounts and during the time periods that would still protect fish survival. Supported by diverse interests, the plan was submitted by Reclamation and approved by the State Water Resources Control Board on May 14.

The plan was based on Reclamation modeling showing that water temperatures of 56 degrees Fahrenheit could be maintained in the upper reaches of the river during the critical winter-run spawning and early rearing period. However, the equipment used by Reclamation to estimate the amount of cold water in Shasta Reservoir was later determined to have provided inaccurate data. In late May, additional temperature measurements by Reclamation pointed to warmer than expected water in Shasta Reservoir.

On May 29, Reclamation informed the State Water Board’s Executive Director that these warmer temperatures would make it very unlikely to meet the 56 degree target throughout the summer and fall as proposed in their earlier temperature management plan. The Executive Director temporarily suspended the plan while Reclamation corrected modeling deficiencies and worked with State Water Board staff and the fisheries agencies on an alternative plan. The State Water Board today is extending its suspension to give state and federal officials additional time to finalize the details and submit a revised plan.

Changing operations at Shasta Reservoir has ramifications not only for the Redding-to-Bakersfield Central Valley Project, but also for the State Water Project, which delivers water from Reservoir Oroville to Southern California cities and farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Reduced Shasta outflows also may require Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), which operates the State Water Project, to release more water from Folsom Reservoir and Reservoir Oroville to repel salinity downstream in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The temporary emergency rock barrier installed across West False River in the Delta last month by the DWR will help ease the need to make bigger reservoir releases to repel salinity, but the potential remains for additional releases, depending upon the weather and other circumstances. Exactly how the changes in outflow from Shasta Reservoir may affect other water users will depend upon many factors, including weather, how much water is diverted or seeps in to groundwater aquifers from rivers and streams, and how much water is needed to repel salinity in the Delta.

Coping with this fourth year of ongoing drought and a potential fifth year of dry conditions will require maximum cooperation, collaboration and creativity from water users to allow for water transfers and exchanges to meet the most critical needs.

“This year is all about balancing unavoidable bad risks across the board and choosing a careful course given the uncertainties of what the summer will bring," said Will Stelle, West Coast Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. "As we do so, we are collectively determined to avoid last year's loss of nearly the entire population of spawning winter-run Chinook salmon because of high water temperatures.”

Under the outlines of a revised Sacramento River temperature plan, releases of water from Keswick Reservoir, which regulates flows from Shasta Reservoir, will target 7250 cubic feet per second (cfs) as a basis for operations. Actual operations will be decided through a monitoring and decision-making process that examines on-the-ground conditions in real time, including water temperatures and the volume of cold water. The plan also will revise slightly upward to 57 degrees the temperature target for water in the upper reaches of the Sacramento River.

Reclamation, in cooperating with other state and federal agencies, will conduct necessary monitoring and reporting requested by the State Water Board and fisheries agencies to inform real-time decisions.

The revised plan will need formal review by multiple agencies. Reclamation is expected to submit the plan on Friday or Monday to the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their review and concurrence under the Endangered Species Act, and to the State Water Board for their approval. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will also be asked to issue a consistency determination under the California Endangered Species Act. The State Water Board will hold a workshop on June 24 to receive updated information on Reservoir Shasta temperature operations and the water supply effects of the operations.
Keep watch at CapitalPress.com for our continuing coverage of the drought and its impacts.

Canadian official: Dahle bill sends 'wrong message'

I finally heard back from the Canadian consulate with regard to my inquiries about Assemblyman Brian Dahle's bill to essentially set a state preference for California-grown wood products. Here is the response I received from Justin Currie, foreign policy and diplomacy officer in the Canadians' San Francisco office:
Canada values it’s strong partnership with the state of California. Procurement preferences and restrictions, such as those contemplated in AB 429, can impede legitimate cross-border trade between Canada and California because they create barriers to market access. Canada and California’s total goods trade is USD $46.1 billion, and more than 1 million jobs in California depend on trade and investment with Canada. Procurement preferences like those contemplated in AB429 send the wrong message to businesses and investors.

Furthermore, local content restrictions can often be complicated to apply, limit choice, and potentially can create liability in the event of their misapplication. Both Canada and California have commitments under the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Government Procurement (WTO-GPA), which provides trading partners with expanded access to covered procurement. Lastly, it should be noted that Canada’s sustainable forest management practices are internationally recognized as among the most rigorous in the world.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Locals gear up for this week's Shasta District Fair

Today I attended the annual media luncheon for the Shasta District Fair, which kicks off Wednesday and runs through Saturday at the fairgrounds in Anderson. Here is the full schedule.

The luncheon is always a great opportunity to touch base with other members of the area's print and electronic media. There's always a certain amount of turnover at the radio and TV stations in our area, so it's a chance to welcome newcomers to the area and let them know what we do at the Capital Press.

I'll be in the livestock area during the fair featuring youngsters in 4H and FFA, finding out what's new with them and perhaps finding a Western Innovator. Look for photos here, and watch for my coverage at CapitalPress.com.