Monday, December 21, 2015

North state dreaming of a wet, white Christmas

The last time I've been able to use the phrase "persistent parade of rain clouds" to describe a series of storms in our area was in the winter of 2010-2011, when we had a December much like this one. What we've seen lately, and what we expect to see for the remainder of the week, would certainly qualify.

The latest outlook from the National Weather Service:
An active pattern continues. A Strong storm Christmas Eve

Impacts
Slick roads from rain & snow
Chain controls, travel delays over the mountains
Low potential for debris flows on burn scars ( Burn scars graphic)

Timing and Strength
Brief break tonight, then wet pattern resumes Sunday
Heavy snow over Buckhorn Summit along highway 299 Sunday morning.
Heaviest Sunday afternoon and evening impacting travel over Sierra Passes
Snow levels briefly down to 3000 feet over the Sierra
Strong storm possible Christmas Eve into Christmas Day with low snow levels

Weather Summary
Snow will bring another round of travel issues for people traveling over the mountains with snow levels 2000-3000 feet, but rising through Tuesday. Check out this video for timing.

Monday afternoon and Tuesday another wave with some fluctuating snow levels as warm air moves over the area.

Burn Scars: Moderate amounts of rain will be possible through Tuesday. However, at this time amounts look below debris flow thresholds. However smaller creeks within scars could see rapid rises and some minor runoff within the scars.

Storm for Christmas Eve is looking impressive with widespread impacts possible into Christmas Day. We'll keep watching and update the situation as we get closer.
As we've reported today (via AP), the Sierras are being dumped on today with lots of new, fresh Christmas snow -- enough to bring a few Frostys to life. And as Mitch Lies reports for the Capital Press, at least one expert thinks this winter's El Nino will be so strong that the Pacific Northwest -- usually left dry by the phenomenon -- will get in on the abundance of precipitation.

We're keeping an eye on the storms as they develop. Check here and at CapitalPress.com for updates.

Friday, December 18, 2015

LaMalfa votes no on $1.1T spending bill

The north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa today voted against the $1.1 trillion spending package to fund the federal government through September 2016.

Here is his statement:

“We knew going in that Speaker Ryan was working to make the best of the bad hand he was dealt when he was chosen to lead the House. However, I could not support the final product of negotiations.

“This bill contains some very positive components. It increases pay for our troops, closes loopholes in our Visa Waiver Program so we know who is entering our country, and funds health benefits for 9/11 first responders. It accelerates approval of Sites Reservoir, completing the decades-long study of a project that Californians so clearly need. The measure also frees up millions in federal funds provided to North State transportation projects that were never built, allowing more highway and road improvements without spending new funds.

“However, the bill increases spending at a time when the federal debt has reached astounding levels and leaves a number of issues on the table. The administration’s Waters of the United States power grab, already rejected by two federal courts, remains in place, as does the President’s immigration plan.

“Ultimately, the growing deficit and the likelihood of interest rate increases indicate that debt service will be an increasingly larger responsibility for Congress, a problem this bill makes worse.

“In order to truly reform the government, we must look beyond the third of federal spending in this bill and address the autopilot programs that run the nation farther into the red every year. I am committed to working with the Speaker to put our nation back on sound footing by simplifying our tax code, reforming autopilot spending, and replacing Obamacare.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chicken council applauds proposed COOL repeal

The National Chicken Council is applauding the omnibus spending package negotiated in Congress, which repeals the controversial country-of-origin meat-labeling rule on the eve of anticipated retaliatory tariffs on American-made goods by Canada and Mexico.

In an emailed statement, NCC President Mike Brown said the following:

“The National Chicken Council is pleased that Congress is poised to repeal the mandatory country-of-origin labeling regulations for beef and pork, which have twice been deemed illegal by the WTO. The retaliatory tariffs awarded by the WTO to Mexico and Canada totaling over $1 billion should not now be levied against any of our chicken and fowl products, or any other American goods. This is a victory for all U.S. agricultural products and a win-win for U.S. chicken producers and consumers. When at the meat case, consumers seeking chicken made in the USA can continue to readily identify these products of American origin.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Next big rain to arrive Thursday, another for Christmas

Our pattern of about two major storms a week will continue through Christmas. From the National Weather Service:
Wet Pattern Thursday Through Next Week Will Impact Holiday Travel

Impacts
Slick roads from rain & snow
Chain controls, travel delays over the mountains
Localized urban and small stream flooding possible
Potential for debris flows on burn scars

Forecast Confidence
Medium

Timing and Strength
Several waves of rain/snow expected Thursday through Christmas. Current models suggest heaviest precipitation could occur:
Friday afternoon - Saturday afternoon
Late Sunday - early Tuesday
See graphic for potential precipitation amounts through Monday (NOTE: additional rain/snow will continue Tuesday into Christmas)
Snow levels will vary between 4500 to 6000 ft
Winds will be breezy to gusty at times

Weather Summary
An active weather pattern will bring rain & snow to NorCal starting Thursday and continuing through next week. With holiday traffic next week, this wet pattern will increase the chances for accidents & delays. This extended wet pattern will also enhance the possibility of localized flooding & burn scar debris flows.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cattlemen: report proves EPA's 'radical agenda'

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association asserts that today's Government Accounting Office report criticizing federal efforts on social media to promote the Waters of the U.S. rule proves the Environmental Protection Agency has a "radical agenda."

From the NCBA:
In a decision today from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, the GAO found that the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal law in promoting the agency’s “waters of the United States” rule. The decision found the EPA engaged in covert propaganda and grassroots lobbying to support the WOTUS rule. Philip Ellis, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president, said this report confirms what producers have long suspected: an agency with a radical agenda.

“The WOTUS rule is a flawed rule from a flawed process, and we thank Senator Inhofe (R-Okla.) for calling attention to this clear violation of the law,” said Ellis. “The EPA’s zealous advocacy of their rule in violation of federal law shows the extremes to which this administration will go to subvert public opinion in favor of their far-reaching environmental agenda.”

The GAO decision finds that the EPA’s use of Thunderclap, in which a single social media message can be shared across multiple Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts at the same time, was a prohibited use of EPA’s appropriations for unauthorized publicity or propaganda purposes.

“From the start, the EPA’s use of social media and particularly Thunderclap, raised concerns with stakeholders opposed to the WOTUS rule,” said Ellis. “The use of these messages, without attribution to the agency, was clearly intended to deceive the public to engage in the spread of EPA’s propaganda without consideration of the rulemaking process. By crafting the social media message to appear grassroots, the EPA misused tax-payer funds to support expansion of federal jurisdiction.”

The GAO also found that the agency’s website links to policy engagements on the Natural Resources Defense Council and Surfrider Foundation webpages constituted grassroots lobbying in violation of the grassroots lobbying prohibition.

“The Army Corps’ of Engineers has raised concerns that the EPA exaggerated the scientific basis for their jurisdictional determinations, the courts have twice found rationale to halt implementation of the rule, and both Chambers of Congress have taken action to withdraw the rule,” said Ellis. “It is time for Congress to act to fully defund implementation of the WOTUS rule and bring accountability to the EPA.”

The GAO’s general counsel has advised the EPA to report the violations and the costs associated with the violation of the law to the President and Congress as required by the Antideficiency Act.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Almond board wants to step up innovations

I'm on a call this afternoon with the Almond Board of California, which wants to step up the industry's farming efficiency and environmental stewardship. Here is the organization's press release.
Almond Board of California (ABC) today launched Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM), a major new strategic effort designed to make the almond industry even more efficient and sustainable.1 “Through our Accelerated Innovation Management program, the Almond Board will accelerate its investment in sustainability1, almond tree and farming research, and step up efforts to develop new partnerships and collaborations, which will drive four major initiatives to move the entire industry forward,” said Richard Waycott, President and CEO of the Almond Board of California. The four major initiatives are:

Water Management and Efficiency - A focus on accelerating almond farmer transition to more efficient irrigation scheduling and management practices to get the most crop per drop of water. This initiative, which builds on the 33 percent reduction in water used per pound of almonds achieved by the industry over the last 20 years1, includes a range of activities from working with farmers to fine tune irrigation techniques to adopting more advanced water management technologies.

Sustainable1 Water Resources - An exploration of how to best leverage a unique strength of the California Almond industry, its acreage, for accelerating natural flood-year groundwater recharge of aquifers. California’s aquifers are collectively the state’s largest water storage system and water recharged through this program would benefit all Californians, not just farmers. A second part of this initiative will look for opportunities to recycle water from multiple sources, such as municipal wastewater, as a way of increasing overall water availability for farmers and all Californians.

Air Quality - Investigating various ways the almond industry can help meet the Central Valley’s exacting air quality standards. This will delve into the various ways almond production impacts air quality and evaluate opportunities to decrease emissions. From analyzing industry fossil fuel use to small- and large-particle pollutants, all components of almond farming that impact air quality are under scrutiny. This initiative will identify alternatives that will result in cleaner air for all those who live in California’s Central Valley – farmers, their families, and surrounding communities.

22nd Century Agronomics - A recognition that we need to better understand and then adopt the technologies that will lead California farming into the 22nd century. Almond Board of California will lead a comprehensive exploration of almond farming techniques, bringing an exploratory mindset to consider all options as to what innovations and technical “leap frogs” will be needed to sustainably1 farm in the future. Each component of almond farming will be considered, from land preparation and varietal development, to equipment and processing.

Waycott noted significant progress already on two of the initiatives – Sustainable1 Water Resources and Air Quality -- and said that the industry will keep consumers and customers apprised of major research projects in these and the other initiative areas in the months and years ahead.

“Our recent partnership with Sustainable Conservation is exploring the potential of using California almond orchards for accelerated recharge of Central Valley groundwater. Research this winter will channel excess winter flood water into almond orchards in several test sites, including Merced, Stanislaus, and Fresno counties where a UC Davis study will track soil moisture and water movement, tree response, detailed root development and growth response,” Waycott said.

“On air quality, the Almond Board, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and others are carrying out a new USDA-funded pilot project designed to give both almond and corn growers greater access to greenhouse gas markets like those under California's cap-and-trade program,” Waycott said. The project builds on nearly ten years of funding by the Almond Board of California to improve nitrogen management and better understand greenhouse gas emissions, particularly nitrous oxide (N2O), from almond orchards.

The EDF project also dovetails with Almond Board-funded research to understand better the energy flows and the associated greenhouse gases over the average 25 years of an almond orchard's life. Life Cycle Analysis research on growing almonds by UC Davis showed that the industry could become carbon neutral, or even negative, if policy changes and production advancements work hand-in-hand.2

“Farmers are innovators. Since almonds were first planted in California, over 150 years ago, almond growers have adapted, changed, and pushed ahead to improve best practices and develop new technologies. The Almond Board’s research programs have driven this innovation since their inception in 1973 and through this new program, we carry on and accelerate that important tradition,” Waycott said.

“We will make investments today that will put the entire industry in a stronger position 10, 20, or 30 years from now. Already a leader in the size and value of our crop to California, the AIM initiatives will take our industry’s leadership to the next level with innovation responsive to the changing California business and agricultural environment. Above all, we want Californians to know almonds are a desirable and high-value use of precious resources entrusted and allocated to growing food in California,” Waycott added.

AIM will complement the California almond industry’s legacy of continuous improvement through over 40 years of research. With a more nimble and adaptive program, AIM will implement commonsense guidelines, develop innovative practices and cultivate advanced technologies that will lead to continued improvement in efficient and sustainable1 farming.

“For decades, the Almond Board has invested millions of dollars in critical research leading to important advancements which continue to support almond growers as good stewards of the land,” Waycott said. “In fact, over the last two decades, industry-funded research overseen by the Almond Board has allowed farmers to reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent. Our research has also helped develop orchard practices that better promote healthy environments for honey bees and ensure the safety of workers, local communities and ecosystems. The California almond community understands the value of critical research, and we’re doubling down on this important work.”
Watch for my story at CapitalPress.com.

Big storm to dump 'heavy snow' through Friday

Winter is here. From the National Weather Service:
Wet Storm to Bring Heavy Snow Thursday Through Early Friday

Impacts

Travel hazards from winter road conditions Thursday into early Friday, especially over Sierra passes
Snow will be heavy and wet in nature "Sierra Cement" (added)
Debris flows possible over recently burned areas
Localized flooding from wind-blown leaves clogging drains/gutters
Localized power outages & downed branches

Forecast Confidence
High for wet pattern Wednesday-Friday
High for heavy snow Thursday-early Friday
Snow level (7300 ft) Thursday morning, dropping below 5000 ft in the early evening(Slowed timing)
Medium for gusty winds Thursday afternoon and evening
Medium for exact precipitation amounts due to model variability
Low for Thursday afternoon thunderstorms
Low for debris flows over recently burned areas(added)

Timing and Strength
Starts Wednesday, heaviest precipitation Thursday, tapering off Friday
Heaviest snow impacting travel over Sierra passes expected between 10 am Thursday morning through 10 pm Thursday evening
Winds: Gusts up to 35 mph in the Valley with gusts 50+ mph near Sierra crest
Precipitation: 0.5-1.5" in the Valley, 2-4" Foothills/Mountains
Snow: 12-18" Sierra pass summit, 4-8" inches 5000 feet, up to 2 feet over high peaks(Lowered amounts)
Debris Flows: Best potential Thursday afternoon and Thursday night from thunderstorms

Weather Summary

A series of storms will bring a wet pattern from mid to late week, with periods of Valley rain and heavy high mountain snow. Warm air ahead of this system will delay the lowering of snow levels to during the day Thursday. Snow will begin to impact pass level traffic Thursday mid morning and continue to drop by Friday to around 4000 feet. Heaviest precipitation will be on Thursday, with over a foot of new snow possible above 6000 feet and the potential for 2 feet over high peaks. Rain storm total amounts around 0.5-1.5" projected for the Valley, with liquid equivalent for the mountains up to 2-4".
There is a slight chance for thunderstorms with locally heavy rain Thursday afternoon and evening. However, confidence is low as to where the storms will develop in relation to specific burn areas if they develop at all. Leaves clogging drains may cause local ponding and/or minor flooding of roads. Breezy southerly winds expected in the Valley with gusts up to 35 mph, with winds gusting to 50+ mph along the Sierra crest. Snow will be heavy and wet "Sierra Cement". This type of snow combined with the wind could cause local power outages, and whiteout conditions over mountains. Travel over Trans Sierra passes will be impacted Thursday, so plan accordingly.

Confidence continues to improved for a wet/snowy system to impact the area on the weekend, mainly on Sunday.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The latest on this weekend's storm

More rain is coming, which is an exceedingly good thing. From the National Weather Service:
Sunday Weather System to Impact Marathon and Mountain Travel

Impacts

Rain to impact California International Marathon
Snow along and north of I-80 will impact travel

Forecast Confidence
Medium

Timing and Strength
Rain late Saturday night through Sunday afternoon
Amounts generally less than 0.50" north of I-80, with up to 1.00" possible in the northern-most portions of the valley
Snow above 4000 feet north and 5000 feet along I-80 Sunday
Heaviest snow anticipated in the morning hours Sunday

Weather Summary

Our next weather system is expected to move into the area late Saturday through Sunday. This is a weaker system overall, but can still impact travel over the mountain passes on Sunday. Rain may also impact the California International Marathon on Sunday morning. Participants and spectators should plan for wet and cool weather.

System will quickly exit the region by Sunday night.
No word on whether rain will arrive in time for Saturday night's Redding parade, but if it comes late in the evening, the parade should be spared.

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.

Friday, June 12, 2015

State fines Shasta County landowner over pot grow

From the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board:
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has imposed $297,400 in liability against property owner Christopher Cordes and contractor Eddie Axner Construction, Inc., for large-scale grading activities that resulted in actual and potential harm to surface waters in the Ono area of Shasta County.

The civil liability is the first penalty action taken by a multi-agency Cannabis Pilot Project formed specifically to address the adverse environmental impacts caused by marijuana cultivation. The project includes staff from the State and Regional Water Boards and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Assistance in this case was also provided by the Shasta County Department of Resource Management.

The grading activities resulted in unlawful discharges of sediment to pristine surface waters that provide habitat to aquatic organisms that are an important food source for fish, amphibians, birds and other wildlife. The contractor conducted the grading operations on a portion of the property without the necessary permits and was held jointly liable for up to $139,700 of the total penalty imposed.

Cordes purchased and developed property in the Ono area for the purpose of growing marijuana. The development involved the unpermitted grading and terracing of approximately 3.8 acres and 1.5 miles of roads that resulted in numerous discharges of highly erodible sediment and the unauthorized placement of fill into tributaries of North Fork of Cottonwood Creek in violation of the Clean Water Act and the California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

“The failure of Mr. Cordes and the contractor involved in this matter to obtain the necessary permits prior to developing the property for marijuana cultivation resulted in severe impacts to water quality. The land grading activities could have been completed in a manner that would have avoided violations to our water quality protection laws and regulations,” said Clint Snyder, Assistant Executive Officer for the Central Valley Water Board. “The penalty adopted by the Board reflects the egregious nature of these violations and the importance of holding all involved parties accountable.”

Due to significant and potential long-term sediment discharges at the site, both parties are also under a Clean Up and Abatement Order issued on March 20, 2015 to remediate ongoing problems with the property. The order requires the dischargers to 1) obtain all necessary permits, 2) prepare an Interim Erosion and Sediment Control Plan, 3) prepare a Restoration, Mitigation, and Monitoring Plan, and 4) conduct long term monitoring.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

NCBA applauds House vote to repeal label law

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is applauding yesterday's lopsided vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law that has the nation in hot water with its two closest trading partners.

From the NCBA:
The bill passed with a strong bi-partisan vote of 300 to 131. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President and Chugwater, Wyoming, cattleman Philip Ellis said this strong action by the House sends a clear signal that this is a failed program.

“COOL has been without benefit to the U.S. cattle industry and producers like myself,” said Ellis. “And now with retaliation eminent from our largest trading partners, it is time this legislation is repealed. There is no other fix that can be put in place to bring value to this program or satisfy our trading partners.”

Canada and Mexico have announced they will seek $3.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs, raising prices for U.S. beef, pork, ethanol, wine and a host of other products.

“It is imperative that the Senate act quickly to pass this legislation,” said Ellis. “The governments of Canada and Mexico have been very clear that they fully intend to retaliate to the fullest extent allowed by the WTO and the only step before that happens is to determine the actual amount. Retaliation will be in the billions, and our economy cannot afford that hit.”

The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that each dollar of agricultural exports stimulates another $1.22 in business activity and that every $1 billion of U.S. agricultural exports requires 7,580 American jobs throughout the economy.

“COOL retaliation will have a major impact on our economy and our trading relationships, now and into the future,” said Ellis. “Cattlemen and women support consumers in the information they seek, we are open and transparent, and we can do that without costly and trade distorting rules. We support voluntary labeling efforts that provide consumers with information they want and benefit cattle producers who can provide that information.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Water shortages cause drop in rice acreage

Last night's rain notwithstanding, rice growers in the Sacramento Valley continue to curb their expectations for this year's crop as the dry summer progresses.

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:
Water shortages mean another cut in Sacramento Valley rice planting, according to the California Rice Commission. The commission said Tuesday it expects rice to be planted on 375,000 acres of land this year, down about 60,000 acres from last year and below an earlier government projection. Along with the loss of economic activity, the commission says the reduced acreage will also affect wildlife that depend on rice fields for habitat.
As I reported last month, the National Agricultural Statistics Service had anticipated 408,000 acres of rice this season.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cut in Shasta Lake releases concerns CFBF

The state's largest ag organization is concerned that a halt in releases of warm water from Shasta Lake into the Sacramento River could lead to deeper cuts in water sent to farmers.

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:
Uncertainties have grown about the state's ability to deliver water for multiple uses, as officials reviewed river and reservoir temperature models for cold water being released from the state's largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, to protect salmon.

The State Water Resources Control Board has temporarily suspended releases from Shasta Lake into the Sacramento River. Officials said after four years of drought and very little snow melt, water temperatures are higher than expected.

Salmon and their eggs are very sensitive to water temperatures and are damaged or destroyed when water temperatures rise above 56 degrees. [...]

[T]emperatures in Shasta Lake are significantly warmer than expected and will likely make it impossible for the [U.S. Bureau of Reclamation] to meet the 56 degrees maximum temperature requirement at Clear Creek throughout the temperature-control season—through summer and early fall.

Chris Scheuring, an environmental attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said that while the temporary cutback in releases from Shasta Lake represents a small fraction of agricultural water supply in an average year, farmers remain concerned that the inability to manage temperature requirements could lead to longer, deeper cutbacks.

"We're in a bad situation and there's just no slack in the system for anything," Scheuring said. "We're scraping the bottom of the barrel for human use, as well as for protected fisheries. The only reasonable conclusion we can draw from this is that additional storage might help in critical drought years like this."

Scheuring said additional water storage capacity would certainly give water managers "more options to operate the system and still manipulate temperatures in a way that supports fisheries, without detracting from reliable water supplies for cities and farms."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Slightly lighter prune crop expected this summer

The warm early-spring temperatures in California this year may cause prune tonnage to be slightly below last year, a survey of growers has determined.

In all, 100,000 tons of prunes, or dried plums, are expected to come out of dryers this summer and fall, down 4 percent from the 104,000 tons produced in 2014, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service in Sacramento.

While the plum set appears to be very good, the warm and early spring may increase the amount of smaller fruit, NASS reasoned.

Northern areas may fair better. Grower Tyler Christensen notices a heavy fruit set in his plum orchards near Red Bluff, as down crops in 2013 and 2014 may have given the trees enough rest to produce in abundance this year, he said.

"We had a pretty warm winter and a warm spring, so they came out of dormancy pretty early," Christensen said. "But all the farm advisers are assuring us that we had much better chilling hours than in the last couple of years. That and the fact that the trees got some rest from two years of down crops in our area, those two factors helped us out."

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

EPA: Fracking doesn't systemically pollute water

From the Washington Examiner:
In a victory for the oil and gas industry, the Environmental Protection Agency released a long-awaited draft study Thursday that said the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, doesn't systemically pollute drinking water.

The EPA acknowledged specific instances of groundwater pollution from fracking, but ultimately said the draft study showed the threat is not endemic.

"We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured well," the EPA report said.

Fracking, with the advent of horizontal drilling, has unleashed the U.S. shale oil and natural gas boom, turning the country into the world's largest hydrocarbon producer. But the method, which involves injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight-rock formations to access oil and gas buried deep underground, has raised fears of water pollution.

The draft of the five-year-long study is sure to please drillers who had criticized previous agency findings regarding the drilling practice.
HT: Erin Ryan.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Weather expert on El Nino hype: Not so fast

Assurances of a strong El Nino weather pattern through the summer doesn't necessarily mean California is in for a wet winter, a National Weather Service long-range forecaster warns.

The federal Climate Prediction Center recently asserted that El Nino, whose warm sea surface temperatures fuel southern storms, stands a 90 percent chance of continuing over the next few months and a more than 80 percent chance it will last through the end of the year.

While there's more confidence that El Nino will continue into the winter, it's too soon to know how strong it will be, said Michelle Mead, warning coordinator for the weather service in Sacramento.

"The strength is really what determines the potential to see above-average precipitation for California," Mead said.

Early predictions don't necessarily materialize, Mead cautioned. She pointed to last winter, which started strong amid predictions of a wet winter but fizzled after Christmas.

The CPC's assertion prompted breathless reports by some California media outlets, including this one from Channel 5 in San Francisco:
Climate experts say El Nino is growing stronger and could bring drought-busting wet weather to California this year. [...]

On Thursday, scientists at the International ResearchInstitute for Climate and Society (IRI) said chances for El Nino this summer are close to 100 percent, with simulations suggesting by December, it could exceed the devastating 1997-1998 event that brought widespread flooding and hurricane-force winds to most of California.
For my complete story, check the upcoming issue of Capital Press.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Drought to cause $2.7 billion in ag losses in 2015

The drought will cause about $2.7 million in total agricultural costs in 2015 with direct job losses totaling about 8,550 and total job losses exceeding 18,600, University of California-Davis researchers said today.

The researchers were giving their first economic estimates for this year after estimating that the drought cost the California ag economy $2.2 billion last year and left some 14,000 farmworkers without jobs.

This year, researchers from UCD's Center for Watershed Sciences expect growers to fallow 564,000 acres, suffer a crop revenue loss of $844 million and incur $558 million in additional groundwater pumping costs, they told the state Board of Food and Agriculture in a meeting streamed online.

For my complete report, check CapitalPress.com soon.

State agencies brace for a summer of drought

Today promises to be a busy day for state agencies as they discuss how they're responding to the drought and its many impacts. In Sacramento, the State Water Resources Control Board will unveil April per capita water use information and discuss enforcement measures, while the state Board of Food and Agriculture discusses the (often erroneous) public perceptions of farm water use.

Both meetings will be streamed live online. Watch the water board's 9 a.m. meeting here and the food and ag board's 10 a.m. meeting here.

Meanwhile, Monday was the deadline for senior rights holders in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region to submit their voluntary plans for cutting their water use by 25 percent. I'll be checking on how many farmers have signed up, what they're doing to reduce their water use and what it could mean for the future.

In the photos above, which are courtesy of the Department of Water Resources, crews are seen putting the finishing touches on a temporary barrier to keep saltwater out of the Delta during the drought. The person speaking in the final photo is Paul Marshall, chief of the DWR's Bay-Delta Office.

I'll be working up several stories on the developments. Look for our comprehensive drought coverage at CapitalPress.com.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Nielsen lays out GOP budget priorities

From the office of north state Sen. Jim Nielsen:
As legislative budget conference committee members discuss the state budget, Senate Republicans outlined their priorities to create a bi-partisan budget that is sustainable.

While there are many positive elements in the Governor’s budget plan, it proposes a new record high spending level of over $267 billion and is precariously balanced. This is $13 billion more than last year’s budget. This rapid state spending increase will not be manageable in the future.

Senate Republicans support the following budget priorities:

Ø Invest in education – keep faith with voter-approved constitutional spending requirements for schools under Proposition 98.

Ø Continue to build the state’s new rainy day reserve as promised in Proposition 2.

Ø Pay down state debt and address unfunded liabilities like pensions that jeopardize our state’s fiscal future.

o The Department of Finance projects that under the Governor’s current spending policies, California will return to operating deficits in excess of $2.5 billion by 2018-19.

Ø Keep Proposition 30 taxes temporary. The dramatic increase in revenue from Proposition 30 taxes is short-term; and the Governor promised voters that these tax increases would be temporary.

Ø Invest money in infrastructure. Our roads and highways have been neglected for years; we pay a high cost for rough roads, spending more for repairs and maintenance, tire wear and increased fuel consumption. Gov. Brown has stated it will take close to $60 billion over the next 10 years just to get our roads and highways back in shape.

Ø Hold University of California to agreement to not increase tuition and increase state student enrollment.

Ø Heed the independent Legislative Analyst’s warning: “We are clearly on the upward slope of the state’s revenue roller coaster. But just as the state's revenue picture has improved significantly over just a few months, it can just as easily reverse course with a stock market or economic downturn. It is prudent that the Legislature act with fiscal restraint.”

Friday, May 29, 2015

Group asserts fast-track trade bill will kill jobs

An Oregon group asserts the fast-track trade legislation being debated in the House of Representatives would kill as many as 1,400 local jobs.

From the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign:
Labor advocates shared a report with U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader’s office today to warn that his district would be giving up thousands of jobs by approving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement without safeguards to prevent currency manipulation by foreign governments. The congressman recently said he intends to support “fast track” legislation that would allow the TPP to be rushed through Congress without currency protections.

“Rep. Schrader has said that it’s imperative that the TPP address currency manipulation to protect American workers, businesses and farmers. Now that it’s clear that the TPP would allow this unfair trade practice to continue, he should oppose giving the job-killing pact a rubber stamp,” said Elizabeth Swager of Oregon Fair Trade Campaign.

The TPP is a proposed twelve-nation trade pact that would set rules governing approximately 40% of the global economy. Last week, the U.S. Senate approved legislation to fast track the TPP that failed to include the currency safeguards that Rep. Schrader and a bipartisan majority of other House members said were necessary in a June 2013 letter to the President. The House is now considering the bill.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the United States has lost nearly 900,000 jobs due to currency manipulation by prospective TPP partner, Japan, alone. The study found that Japanese currency manipulation has cost Oregon's 5th Congressional district 1,400 jobs, and 9,400 jobs statewide.

“If trade negotiators were serious about creating American jobs through the TPP, one of the first things they would have insisted upon is an end to currency cheating that prices Oregon's exports out of the market,” said Greg Pallesen of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers. “A bipartisan majority in the House, including Rep. Schrader, insisted that this was a problem and trade negotiators told them tough luck. This should be an easy call for Rep. Schrader, but he got it wrong by leaving Oregon's jobs unprotected.”

Last month constituents delivered a letter signed by over 2,000 organizations across the country urging his to oppose the fast track legislation.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Q&A with Prof. Houk about north state ag economics

There's quite a bit of interest around the state in an economic study recently completed by Eric Houk, an ag business professor at Chico State. As I reported this week, Houk found that agriculture has boomed in northeastern California over the last decade and now accounts for nearly 1 in 5 jobs and 17 percent of all economic activity in the region.

Some of my sources in the San Joaquin Valley have taken notice in Houk's conclusion that ag accounted to nearly 7 percent of the state's total value added in 2013 and contributed 7.6 percent of the state's jobs. Many media reports have said agriculture only contributes about 2 percent of the gross state product, based at least partly on figures from UC-Davis' Agricultural Issues Center.

Here is the Q&A I did via email with Professor Houk for my story.

What would be the most important takeaway that people should glean from the study?

I think there are two major things I want people to take away from the report. First, I want them to realize how “Agriculture” includes a lot more than farm production. We often see a focus on production values, but we need to think about agriculture in a much broader way and include agricultural production, processing, and related activities. The second thing I want people to get from the study is understanding how the economy in some regions is more dependent upon agriculture than others. In this report I focused on northeastern California and I included some statewide comparisons so the reader can see how much more dependent northeastern California’s economy is on agriculture than the state as a whole.

To what extent do you think the drought has impacted the numbers since the study period?

2013 was a drought year and total production was likely impacted, but isolating these effects is difficult. The top three commodities in this region in terms of total value of production is Rice, Walnuts, and Almonds. A common response to a lack of water is land fallowing/idling, but in the case of Walnuts and Almonds this is not an option. As a result, these producers were unlikely to have reduced acreage very much. Instead they probably faced higher irrigation costs due to increased groundwater pumping or needing to purchase/lease water from other sources. Since Rice is an annual crop we did see some land fallowing in 2013. Drought induced land fallowing will decrease the total value of rice production in the region, but relatively strong rice prices also would have contributed to adding some acreage and the higher prices would help offset the effects of land fallowing to some degree.

You mention that your study differs from a UC Agricultural Issues Center economic study in terms of methodology. What did you do differently to arrive at the figures you cite?

I think the methods would have been relatively similar, but we probably defined “Agriculture” in slightly different ways. Once we defined the direct level of economic activity for agriculture, we both used IMPLAN to capture the multiplier effects (indirect and induced effects). The Measure of California Agriculture report states “Including multiplier effects, California farms and closely related processing industries…” contribute to the economy in several ways, but I was never able to see exactly which sectors of the economy they included as “closely related processing”. I assume we would have identified the same farm production sectors and most of the same agricultural processing sectors. However, I also included “Agricultural Related” activities like farm machinery manufacturing, support activities for agriculture, etc. and it does not appear that they included those as direct effects. These types of economic activities are typically part of what we would call the Farm Service Sector and I included them as part of the overall “Agriculture Industry”. The approach I used was more consistent with a report by English, Popp, and Miller (2013) that was used to estimate the economic contribution of agriculture to the Arkansas economy.

What I find interesting is that my statewide results are not that different from the UC AIC highlight report for 2009, but with one major difference. The UC AIC Highlights opens with the following sentence “Including multiplier effects, California farms and closely related processing industries generate 6.7 percent of the state’s private sector labor force (including part-time workers), 1.3 percent of the Gross State Product (GSP) and 6.1 percent of the state labor income (2009).

In terms of employment (7.6% versus 6.7%) and labor income (7% versus 6.1%), we are somewhat similar. However, when it comes to the percentage of Gross State Product I estimated it at 6.8% while they stated 1.3%. I am still confused how they would have gotten 1.3% of Gross State Product if they actually included processing and multiplier effects as they indicated. I was not able to find the detailed report that was used to create the updated highlights report for 2009, but they do have the full detailed report for the 2002 MOCA available online. Table 5-5 in that report summarizes the overall economic impact of CA Ag production and processing for 2002 and when I look at those numbers (total value added including direct, indirect, and induced relative to the total value added by the California economy) I get something like 6.5% in 2002. This is much more consistent with what I estimated for 2013.

Coincidently, if you look at my report and focus only on “Agricultural Production”, ignore Processing and Ag Related sectors along with the multiplier effects (Indirect and induced effects), I get 1.4% which is very similar to their 1.3% estimate. It makes me wonder if the 1.3% estimate actually includes processing and multiplier effects, I haven’t reached out to authors to try and confirm this.

I guess the potential concern here is if this 1.3% number is being used by the press to potentially minimize the role of agriculture in the state…


The photo of Professor Houk is courtesy of the Chico State College of Agriculture's website.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Water rule won't burden farmers, EPA chief says

Federal officials say the finalized Clean Water Rule unveiled today won't place new burdens on farmers, whom the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's chief referred to as "America's original conservationists."

The rule will only protect waters that have historically been covered under the 1972 Clean Water Act and doesn't interfere with private property rights or address land use, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. It also doesn't apply to any ditches that don't "act as tributaries," she said.

"This rule will not get in the way of agriculture," McCarthy said during a news conference on the banks of the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. "It specifically recognizes the crucial role that farmers play."

Beltway media outlets attended the news conference in person, and many other reporters (including me) called in to a teleconference that McCarthy and other officials held from the site.

McCarthy and Assistant Army Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy told reporters the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received more than 1 million comments on the rule, which builds on the 1986 federal definition of "waters of the United States." The agencies sought to redefine waters administratively after a proposal in 2009 to change the definition of "navigable" waters in the Clean Water Act languished in Congress.

Asked to respond to farm groups' criticism the agencies have mounted more of a public relations campaign than an honest outreach effort, McCarthy said the government simply used social media to disseminate information as other entities would.

"We did not cross any legal lines," she said, adding that regulators made "substantial changes" to the rule after hearing feedback in more than 400 meetings with individuals and organizations.

My colleague Mateusz Perkowski examines what will happen next now that the final rule is out. Keep an eye out for our continuing coverage at CapitalPress.com. (The photo of EPA administrator Gina McCarthy is courtesy of the Associated Press.)

Ranchers' groups blast new EPA water rule

Two prominent ranchers' groups are roundly criticizing the finalized Clean Water Rule unveiled today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council:
“Nothing left unregulated” is the apparent motto of the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, the Agency finalized its “Waters of the United States” proposed rule, which unilaterally strips private property rights and adds hundreds of thousands of stream miles and acres of land to federal jurisdiction.

Under the guise of clarifying the Clean Water Act, the EPA and the Army Corps added ambiguous language to the law that leaves regulation up to the subjectivity of individual regulators across the country. By law, the EPA must read and consider all comments submitted on the proposed rule, but only six months after receiving over one million public comments on the proposal, EPA has finalized the rule. Philip Ellis, National Cattlemen's Beef Association president, said this is a clear indication there is no intention of considering the concerns of those most impacted by the rule.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, however, that a flawed rule would come from a flawed process. Not only did the EPA write the proposal expanding the reach of the Clean Water Act without input from agriculture, the Agency implemented their own grassroots lobbying campaign to drown out the concerns of private property owners. The tax-payer funded campaign was promoted through social media channels and called for people to share EPA’s oversimplified and misleading talking points.

“The former Obama campaign officials that received political appointments at EPA are apparently putting their activist knowledge base to use,” said Ellis. “Soliciting endorsements and support is a far cry from simply educating the public, as EPA officials claim.”

The Agency even went a step further during a press conference when Administrator McCarthy called the concerns of cattlemen “ludicrous”. This doesn’t sound like an Agency interested in rural America at all. It’s an Agency with an agenda.

In fact, the EPA used maps of waters and wetlands throughout the country that detailed the extent of their proposal, but it wasn’t until the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology was doing research in preparation for a hearing that the maps were discovered. The taxpayer funded maps, presumably kept hidden for years, painted an “astonishing picture” of what EPA intended to regulate, as Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) explained.

“The EPA has been spending taxpayer dollars employing a grassroots lobbying campaign, hiding information, dismissing concerns from stakeholders, and holding closed-door meetings with environmental activists,” said Brenda Richards, Idaho rancher and Public Lands Council president. “There is no question that this rule will infringe on private property rights and usurp state authority over land and water use. Ambiguous language included will only serve to further jam courtrooms across the country with jurisdictional challenges.”

While NCBA and PLC are reviewing the details of the final rule, the entire process has been flawed and must be set aside; the final rule poses an unnecessary threat to private property owners and cattle producers across the country. The only fix is to start over with all stakeholders’ input and direction from Congress.
Watch for our continuing coverage of this issue at CapitalPress.com.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

NCBA applauds Senate passage of trade authority

Count the National Cattlemen's Beef Association among groups that are happy about the U.S. Senate's passage late last week of the trade promotion authority bill.

“This vote by the Senate is a clear indication of the support that exists nationwide for future free trade agreements," NCBA president and Wyoming cattleman Phillip Ellis said in a statement. "The U.S. market is already one of the most open markets in the world, and to continue to grow demand for U.S. beef, we must continue to negotiate tariff elimination worldwide. I urge the House to follow the lead of the Senate and pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued the following statement:

"Today the Senate helped move America closer to securing responsible agreements that open markets for America's farmers, ranchers and agribusiness and create jobs and improve wages across the country. Over 70 organizations representing America's farmers and ranchers, and past secretaries of agriculture in both parties dating back to the Carter Administration all support trade promotion authority because export sales are vital for U.S. agriculture. Last year, agricultural exports totaled more than $150 billion and for many of our products, foreign markets represent half or more of total sales. Those exports supported approximately 1 million U.S. jobs last year. The economy is strengthened and better paying jobs are created in rural America and communities throughout the country by the additional economic activity that flows from expanded farm and food businesses.

"Standing still is not an option. Our farmers and ranchers face exorbitant tariffs and others barriers in important foreign markets, and if we do not act to maintain and gain market share in these places, our competitors will. U.S. agriculture's interests are best served by ensuring America is at the table with strong negotiating authority."

My colleague Carol Ryan Dumas is working on a comprehensive report of agriculture's reaction to the trade bill's developments. Watch for her story at CapitalPress.com.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Chico State study details ag's north state role

From Sarah DeForest at California State University-Chico:
The Agribusiness Institute at California State University, Chico has released the second in a three-year series of reports detailing the economic contributions of agriculture to the North State economy. Nearly one in five jobs in northeastern California and 17 percent of all economic activity in the region are connected to agriculture, according to the report.

The report, written by agricultural business professor Eric Houk, covers economic activity in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba Counties in 2012. The Contribution of Agriculture to Northeastern California’s Economy in 2013 is supported by a three-year grant from the Agricultural Research Institute to quantify the significance of agricultural production, processing and related industries to the overall economy of northeastern California.

The full report is available online.
In his introduction, Houk explains the reason for the study:
Although agriculture has played a major role in shaping the landscape and stimulating economic growth in Northeastern California, no other studies have focused exclusively on this region of California. While agriculture contributes to the economy through numerous
direct agricultural activities, it also plays an important role through its interactions with other economic sectors.
I've spoken via email with Professor Houk about his study. For my story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

SPI gives out more than $630K in scholarships

Sierra Pacific Industries has handed out more than $630,000 in scholarships this year to the children of its employees, the company announced today.

From SPI:
The Sierra Pacific Foundation, the philanthropic organization founded by the Emmerson Family, recently marked its thirty-sixth year in granting scholarships to dependent children of Sierra Pacific Industries’ employees.

This year, an amount in excess of $630,000 has been awarded to 247 students as they attend colleges, universities and trade schools during the 2015-2016 school year. Qualified recipients are eligible for the scholarship for four years and are sometimes granted a fifth year based on their school and their degree program.

“We believe that by helping these outstanding young people pursue their dreams and become tomorrow’s leaders, we are investing in the future. Our family is very proud of this program,” said Carolyn Emmerson Dietz, Foundation President.

The Sierra Pacific Foundation was founded in 1979 and to date has donated over $5 million dollars in scholarships. In addition to scholarships, the Foundation contributes to youth activities and other organizations in the communities where Sierra Pacific Industries operates. Sierra Pacific Foundation is the main contributor for the Ida Emmerson Hospice House that is being built in Eureka, California with a total contribution of $500,000 and has also made a $1 million contribution over five years to the One Safe Place shelter for victims of abuse in Redding, California.

Siskiyou CattleWomen host annual education day

Yesterday I took a trip into the high country, which was getting some much-needed rain. I was covering the Siskiyou County CattleWomen's 22nd annual ag education day at the Yreka fairgrounds, which drew about 350 fourth-graders from around the region.

In the photos, from the top: Kids at a Siskiyou County Farm Bureau-sponsored booth hosted by ranchers Ryan and Jennifer Walker learned about the benefits of farmland in capturing water runoff; and Tim Smith of Fawaz Farming in Scott Valley was having the youngsters figure out how much hay could be hauled off in a Harobed truck.

For my full story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Valley in crisis as drought, restrictions take toll

Recently I spent a week in the San Joaquin Valley, where I took these photos as growers have been denied surface water have had to take citrus groves and fields out of production.

In the photos, from the top: A bulldozer rips out an orange grove south of Fresno; Dinuba grower and packer Jay Gillette takes stock in his retired orchard; a dry irrigation canal meanders past a citrus packing plant; Mendota area grower Mark Turmon holds an irrigation line being taken out of a fallowed field; Roger Isom of Western Agricultural Processors Association looks at the diminished nut set on a water-starved almond tree; and a field is dragged at a dairy just south of Merced.

A special thanks should go to Roger Isom and to Joel Nelsen and Bob Blakely of California Citrus Mutual, who arranged and facilitated my interviews with more than a dozen growers, packers, processors and other industry reps.

A pall hovers over the San Joaquin as water shutoffs and sinking aquifers threaten to turn what has long been the nation's most productive agricultural region into a hodgepodge of veritable ghost towns and abandoned fields.

The crisis has been worsened by the drought, which has forced more than 2.8 million acres statewide -- a large portion of which is in the Central Valley -- to go without surface water again this year, according to the California Farm Water Coalition.

But growers and industry groups trace the decline of ag in the San Joaquin back to more than two decades ago, as the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and subsequent environmental policies greatly restricted pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

My centerpiece story, along with a companion piece on ag's role in the economies of the Central Valley and California as a whole, will lead this week's issue of Capital Press. Watch for them online at CapitalPress.com within a matter of hours.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

State to install saltwater intrusion barrier in Delta

The much-talked-about temporary rock barrier to keep saltwater out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is becoming a reality, the state Department of Water Resources has just announced.

From the DWR:
Faced with potentially insufficient water supplies to repel salinity in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), in consultation with federal and state water and wildlife agencies, is moving to install an emergency, temporary rock barrier across a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta channel.

DWR seeks to install a single emergency salinity barrier across West False River in May, to be removed six months later in November. State and federal water and wildlife officials, working as a Real-Time Drought Operations Management Team, have determined that the barrier would help deter the tidal push of saltwater from San Francisco Bay into the central Delta. The barrier would be essentially a pile of basketball-size rocks across the 750-foot-wide channel that still allows limited water flow upstream and downstream, depending upon tides. DWR, operator of the State Water Project, is seeking multiple permits from various agencies to accelerate installation.

Keeping saltwater from the central Delta is a priority, as a large portion of the state’s freshwater supplies travel through this part of the Delta. The barrier would help prevent saltwater contamination of water supplies used by people who live in the Delta; Contra Costa, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties; and the 25 million people who rely on the Delta-based federal and state water projects for at least some of their supplies.

Typically when saltwater threatens to encroach deeper into the Delta, water project operators try to repel it either by slowing the pumping of water from the Delta or increasing the amount of water flowing into the Delta from upstream reservoirs.

In this fourth year of drought, Delta pumping by the state and federal water projects is already negligible. It takes three to five days for fresh water released from Lake Oroville or Shasta Lake to reach the Delta. An emergency barrier would provide an additional tool to help limit salinity intrusion prior to arrival of fresh water from upstream reservoirs.

“We had hoped not to have to install any temporary emergency barriers in the Delta this year,” said California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. “But conditions stayed dry through March and April. The West False River emergency barrier would provide a buffer that otherwise would have come from reduced Delta pumping. This summer, there is no Delta pumping to reduce. The barrier would help afford us time to move water from Oroville and Shasta should we need to push back saltwater intruding into the Delta.”

The emergency barrier also would help mitigate a worst-case circumstance this summer in which upstream reservoirs lack sufficient water to meet the minimum outflow requirements to limit Delta salinity intrusion.

Emergency barrier removal would finish no later than November 1 to avoid flood season and potential harm to migratory fish. Removal is expected to take 45 days to 60 days.

Multiple Permits Needed

For the past year, DWR has worked closely on the issue of emergency salinity barriers with multiple agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the Central Valley Project. DWR must obtain permits and a Temporary Urgency Change Permit renewal from the State Water Resources Control Board, a permit for levee modification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a California Endangered Species Act permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. In addition, DWR must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on protections for Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and other listed species. All of these agencies have worked cooperatively on the Real-Time Drought Operations Management Team for the past year.

The permit application process is underway, and DWR hopes to begin installation of the emergency barrier on May 8.

It would be erected across West False River about 0.4 miles east of its confluence with the San Joaquin River, between Jersey and Bradford Islands in Contra Costa County. The location is about 4.8 miles northeast of Oakley.

Construction, monitoring, mitigation and removal are estimated to cost roughly $28 million, to be paid for with a mix of funding from Proposition 50, a $3.4 billion water bond approved by voters in November 2002, and general fund dollars.

The trapezoid-shaped barrier, about 12 feet wide at the top, will temporarily block boat passage on West False River and be marked by warning signs, lights, and buoys. Alternative routes between the San Joaquin River and interior Delta, including Bethel Island marinas, are available (see attached map). The West False River site raises fewer concerns for threatened and endangered fish than other potential barrier sites considered by DWR.

Earlier Consideration of Emergency Barriers

Last year DWR studied the potential impacts of potential temporary barriers at three locations: Steamboat Slough, Sutter Slough, and West False River. The analysis found anticipated impacts could be mitigated to a less-than-significant level. DWR received and reviewed considerable public comments on the Initial Study and Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration, available at http://www.water.ca.gov/waterconditions/docs/Emergency_Drought_Barriers_Initial_Study_and_Proposed_Mitigated_Negative_Declaration.pdf.

At this time, DWR is not pursuing installation of temporary emergency barriers at Sutter Slough or Steamboat Slough. Although DWR is seeking permits from various agencies, the April 1 Executive Order by Governor Brown helps expedite installation of the West False River barrier in time to address emergency drought conditions. The Governor’s Executive Order declared existence of conditions of extreme peril to public safety and directed DWR to implement emergency drought barriers if necessary.

The Executive Order suspends some California Environmental Quality Act requirements for certain drought relief actions, including installation of emergency drought barriers.

DWR last used emergency drought barriers to reduce salinity intrusion in 1976-77. DWR considered the installation of emergency drought barriers in 2014 but determined in late May of last year that they would not be needed, in part because February and March storms improved water supply conditions. Planning for future emergency drought barriers continued after last year’s decision, with a focus on West False River, Steamboat Slough, and Sutter Slough. Earlier this year, based on the input of Delta residents, the Department also considered the feasibility and effectiveness of barriers on Miner Slough in the western Delta and on Steamboat Slough downstream of its confluence with Sutter Slough.

Emergency drought barriers on Miner Slough and Steamboat Sloughs were eliminated from consideration because of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerns about potential effects on threatened Delta smelt.

Current Drought Emergency

The three-year period from 2012 through 2014 was the driest three-year period on record in California, and 2015 opened with the driest January in the state’s weather record history. The Sierra Nevada snowpack typically peaks by April 1; this year, the snowpack was measured at five percent of historic average, the lowest measurement in recorded history.

Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency on January 17, 2014 and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. The State Water Resources Control Board on March 17, 2015 announced new restrictions on water use, including limiting outdoor watering to two days per week and prohibiting lawn watering during rainfall and during the next two days. Earlier this month, the governor directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent.

Conservation – the wise, sparing use of water – remains California’s most reliable drought management tool. Each individual act of conservation -- such as letting the lawn go brown or replacing a washer in a faucet to stop a leak – makes a difference over time.

Visit SaveOurWater.com to find out how everyone can do their part, and visit drought.ca.gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.