Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Caucus calls Bull on wood stove, barbecue regs

The Congressional Western Caucus' latest Bull Report centers on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent moves to regulate and restrict common, ordinary wood stoves and barbecue grills.

From the caucus:
The EPA continues stealing its way into every home and every season of the year. In February, mid winter, the agency finalized regulations further restricting wood stove manufacturers and setting stringent soot standards. Now, as spring starts to break through and summertime lies just around the bend, we learn that the EPA decided to fund a study examining yet another EPA-perceived danger to the environment: barbecue grills. The EPA awarded a $15,000 grant to the University of California—Riverside to examine “particulate emissions” from “residential barbecues.” The study is intended to develop technology to reduce “air pollution” and “health hazards” due to residential barbecues with “potential for global application.”

The EPA says they do not currently regulate backyard grills, but the federal government didn’t used to regulate wood stoves either before 1988 and American families who rely on those stoves for warmth in the wintertime have seen how that has changed and grown even more restrictive in recent years.

For using taxpayer money to study the EPA-perceived “hazards” of a traditional American pastime, enjoyed most famously on the annual celebration of our independence, we give the EPA three bulls with a fourth to be added pending any future move by the EPA to regulate residential grills.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Indiana religious-liberty law: a little perspective

The latest cause celebre in some circles is to criticize an Indiana religious-liberties law they perceive is a slap at the gay community. But it's always helpful in these situations to maintain a little perspective.

First of all, the law doesn't even mention gays. As Breitbart News' Daniel J. Flynn explains:
The law in question, which opponents interpret to permit businesses to opt out of providing goods and services to gay weddings and other events that might offend the religious sensibilities of their proprietors, states, with some caveats, that a “governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” The text of the law, written for the most part in wonkish jargon, does not mention the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “homosexuality,” or any other related term or phrase.
Secondly, the concept of the law is nothing new. David French writes at National Review Online:
But for national freakouts, it’s tough to beat either the sky-is-falling rhetoric around the idea that a few Hobby Lobby employees would have to buy their own abortifacients or, more recently, the sheer nonsense of #boycottindiana, the movement to freeze an entire state out of the national economy for passing a religious freedom law similar to the national Religious Freedom Restoration ACT (RFRA) and RFRAs in 19 other states. While it’s hardly surprising to see legally ignorant sportswriters use the language of segregated lunch counters, it’s disturbing to see well-informed CEOs such as Apple’s Tim Cook conjuring up the specter of the Old South.

Simply put, their concerns about systematic invidious discrimination are utter hogwash, and they either know it or should know it. Why? Because RFRAs aren’t new, the legal standard they protect is decades older than the RFRAs themselves, and these legal standards have not been used — nor can they be used — to create the dystopian future the Left claims to fear.
So why the hysteria? French chalks it up to simple anti-Christian bigotry. And he adds:
This bigotry has a purpose. It serves to demonize the last significant constituency standing in the way of sexual revolution radicalism. After all, unless you demonize your opposition, the general public will have little appetite for forcing Christians to pay for abortion pills, forcing Christian groups to open up to atheist leadership, or forcing Christian bakers or photographers to help celebrate events they find morally offensive. After all, there’s no clamor for requiring Kosher delis to stock pork or requiring gay lawyers to represent the Westboro Baptist Church.

While RFRAs protect people of all faiths, from peyote-smoking Native Americans to Bible-toting florists, the Left’s outrage is narrowly targeted — against the Christian people whose livelihoods they seek to ruin, whose consciences they seek to appropriate, and whose organizations they seek to disrupt. #BoycottIndiana isn’t a cry for freedom. It’s nothing more than an online mob, seeking to bully those it hates.
As a side note, it's interesting that, according to Flynn's piece, the NFL has chosen to remain silent about this controversy. Could it be that the league learned a lesson after its tacit embrace of "Hands up, don't shoot", which turned out to be total baloney? I doubt it, but one can hope.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Balmy weather fuels field work, drought worries

Today I took a road trip to get pictures of rice planting preparations in the Willows area and of the drought-depleted Sacramento River at the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority's pumping station in Red Bluff. The field work was being performed by worker Chuck Pentz in the first two photos and grower Russel Maben in the third.

Despite media reports that some rice growers plan to sell their water to Los Angeles rather than plant a crop, the folks I've talked to said they intend to plant rice this spring. Growers in the settlement-contractor districts expect to get about 75 percent of their normal allotments, which is what they got last year. A clearer picture should emerge next week when 1) the National Agricultural Statistics Service in Sacramento comes out with its plantings report, which should happen Tuesday, and 2) the state Department of Water Resources does its next manual snow survey on Wednesday. April 1 is considered the pinnacle in terms of the snowpack season, but this year's meager results could leave farmers who depend on the runoff feeling like April fools.

Watch for our coverage next week at CapitalPress.com.

No change in CVP water allocations

From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento:
The Bureau of Reclamation reports that, due to continued dry conditions, the initial 2015 water supply allocation released on February 27 for Central Valley Project agricultural contractors and municipal and industrial contractors remains unchanged.

“When we announced the initial allocation, we committed to providing regular water supply updates, recognizing the severe impacts of this fourth year of drought on our water users,” stated Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo. “We continue to work closely with our customers, contractors and federal and state partners to do everything possible to deliver the maximum amount of CVP water, including the 3.1 million acre-feet of CVP water already announced for allocation to our senior water contractors and urban water users last month.”

A complete breakdown of the initial allocation is available at www.usbr.gov/mp/PA/water/docs/1_CVP_Water_Quantities_Allocation.pdf.

The February allocation was based on a conservative runoff forecast driven by critically dry hydrologic conditions, low storage levels, water quality requirements, flow objectives, relative priority of water rights and endangered species protection measures. Currently, the California Department of Water Resources reports that the snow water content statewide is only 12 percent of average for this time of year.

This is the second consecutive Shasta Critical Year for purposes of determining maximum contract quantities for senior water rights holders and wildlife refuges in the Central Valley. Those contractors and refuges have been put on notice that their contract supplies will be reduced due to persistent dry conditions. Reclamation remains committed to working with these contractors to meet their demands through the summer.

Reclamation and DWR are operating the CVP and State Water Project consistent with the 2015 Drought Contingency Plan. The Plan outlines actions to help the CVP and SWP manage limited water supplies and outlines potential adjustments to regulatory requirements. The Plan may be viewed at www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/drought/docs/2015_drought_contingency_plan.pdf.

As the water year progresses, Reclamation will continue to monitor changes to hydrology and opportunities to exercise operational flexibility of the CVP that could influence the allocation. Water supply updates will be made as appropriate and posted on Reclamation’s website at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/pa/water. For further information, please contact the Public Affairs Office at 916-978-5100 (TTY 800-877-8339) or mppublicaffairs@usbr.gov.

Despite U.S. efforts, global antibiotic use to increase

Could the big push to eliminate all but the most necessary uses of antibiotics in farm animals be for naught when it comes to preventing the global spread of antimicrobial-resistant diseases?

According to one researcher, despite all the efforts in the U.S. and Europe to eliminate nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics on the ranch, the drugs' overall use in livestock worldwide is expected to rise 67 percent between 2010 and 2030.

So concludes a study by researcher Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, a health research firm that has been focusing on the problem of antibiotic resistance in human medicine.

Based on rising animal populations and changes in farming methods, Laxminarayan asserts that a near doubling of antibiotic consumption in five countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- will drive the increased use. His findings were published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Laxminarayan says he hopes the research will prompt countries around the world to improve their production systems.

"What we propose (is) that in countries with fairly well optimized production systems, the value added from using antibiotics in subtherapeutic concentrations is not as large as it may have been in the past," he told me in an email this week. "That's not the case in developing countries, that should work to build better livestock production systems to avoid reliance on antibiotics."

Dave Daley, a rancher and interim dean at Chico State's College of Agriculture, doesn't put too much stock in Laxminarayan's study.

"Those studies are based on a lot of different assumptions" that may or may not come true, Daley said. "It may be used as a talking point by groups, but frankly in terms of policy or practice, we need to focus on judicious use for control and treatment."

As I reported several weeks ago in the Capital Press' lead story, new guidelines from the federal Food and Drug Administration have effectively eliminated use of the drugs for livestock growth promotion or feed efficiency, and new herd management practices and advances in vaccines and nutrition are preventing illnesses on the farm that would require antibiotics to treat.

Government pressure on the use of antibiotics in livestock continues to mount. As the Capital Press' Mateusz Perkowski reported this week, Oregon lawmakers are considering their own state restrictions on such treatments.

Pick your cliche. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and diseases know no international borders. If we're doing everything we can to tackle antibiotic resistance and yet it's business as usual in Russia and Brazil, what's the point?

I'll be continuing to look into the ramifications of this global study and will report back soon. For our ongoing coverage of this issue, keep watch at CapitalPress.com.

Nielsen criticizes $1 billion drought spending plan

North state rancher and state Sen. Jim Nielsen complained vehemently about the $1 billion spending plan that lawmakers approved this week, lamenting that only a small portion of the money will help people suffering from the drought.

“This passage of a $1 billion spending plan provides no oversight or accountability to ensure that the moneys would be spent as they were intended," Nielsen said after the two bills passed the Senate late Wednesday.

“These are landmark bills that the public had less than 48 hours to review -- leaving little opportunity for citizen participation and lawmakers to analyze and offer input.

“The drought is being exploited to give sweeping and punitive powers to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to impose fines of up to $8,000 per day, per violation without a sunset date. This will affect our water rights.

“Today’s action also creates a new government entity – the Office of Sustainable Water Solution – without identifying the size, scope or funding source. It appears the intent is to use Proposition 1 moneys. Where is the oversight to ensure that the moneys are used appropriately?”

As we reported (via the AP), the measure authorizing fines for water diversion passed the Senate on a 24-12 party-line vote, with Republicans opposed. The bill approving spending passed the Senate 35-1. Nielsen abstained on AB 91 and voted against AB 92.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Strawberry production off to big start in 2015

The peak season for California strawberries is coming about a month early this year, thanks to warm afternoons and lack of rainfall in the prime growing regions around Watsonville, Santa Maria and Oxnard.

The Golden State had produced 24.6 million trays as of March 21, up from nearly 21.4 million trays for the same period last year, according to the California Strawberry Commission. The Watsonville area has been going gangbusters, turning out over a million trays already this year versus only 171,000 at this point in 2014.

The photo is of organic strawberries from the Irvine-based Orange County Produce, purchased from Orchard Nutrition in Redding.

For my full story on the outlook for strawberries, check CapitalPress.com soon.

McClintock bill would suspend water releases

From north state Rep. Tom McClintock:
Today Congressman McClintock introduced H.R. 1668, the Save Our Water Act.

During times of extreme and exceptional drought conditions the bill will suspend water releases by Federal and State agencies to adjust river water temperatures.

“This bill incorporates language that will stop the appalling practice of sacrificing tens of thousands of acre-feet of water for the comfort of fish when the human population is in immense peril,” said Congressman McClintock upon introducing the bill.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DWR report: Droughts in California aren't new

We often hear it argued that climate change will cause more frequent and severe droughts in California. But droughts in the Golden State are nothing new, as a report from the state Department of Water Resources demonstrates.

From the DWR:
Severe droughts are nothing new to California, home to the highest variable precipitation in the United States. In the midst of a fourth dry year, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has released an in-depth report comparing the severity and impacts of California’s most significant droughts, which stretched from 1929 to 1934, 1976 to 1977 and 1987 to 1992. The report also details the ongoing drought, which began in 2012.

“California’s Most Significant Droughts: Comparing Historical and Recent Conditions,” available here, presents a wealth of information about California’s climate; federal, state, and local water systems; surface and groundwater resources; and historical precipitation. It also provides a summary of lessons learned from previous droughts and highlights the need for better data about groundwater conditions, improved drought prediction capability, and better drought preparedness for small water systems.

The report also describes:

· The atmosphere-ocean dynamics that influence drought in California;
· Highlights of past droughts, such as the extremely severe 1929-34 dry spell that occurred when irrigated acreage in the state was relatively small and the population was less than six million people;
· The setting for past droughts in terms of major water project development, population, and irrigated acreage in the state;
· Historical attempts to cope with drought, such as the temporary emergency pipeline constructed across the San Rafael Bridge to bring imported water to southern Marin County in 1976-77;
· Estimated economic loss data, where available, from the historical droughts, including farmland fallowing and timberland destroyed by wildfire and bark beetle infestation;
· Changes in institutional settings that affect California’s response to drought, such as environmental protection laws that have modified water project operations; and
· Historical deliveries made by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project from 1977 to the present.

The appendix of the report includes a copy of each gubernatorial executive order or emergency proclamation issued related to drought since 1977.

Charts, maps, and graphs in the report illustrate such information as the at-risk small water systems around the state, a comparison of storage in key reservoirs during various drought years, changes in the Colorado River total system storage over time, changes in California’s statewide mean temperature departure since 1900, and maximum salinity intrusion into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in previous droughts.

The report was prepared by DWR Deputy Drought Manager and Interstate Resources Manager Jeanine Jones.

“The water years of 2012-14 stand as California’s driest three consecutive years in terms of statewide precipitation,” said Jones, “and we do not know how long this drought will last. It’s important for Californians to remember that drought is a part of life in California and we can learn from history as we try to emerge from each drought better prepared for the next.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Poll: Most Californians support water-saving efforts

From the California Department of Water Resources:
As California enters a fourth year of drought, a new statewide poll reveals that the vast majority of Californians – some 90 percent – are willing to make significant changes to conserve water both inside and out, and more than 80 percent believe it’s important to conserve water regardless of whether the state is in drought or whether conservation is mandated by local water agencies.

The statewide poll of 801 registered voters – commissioned by the Association of California Water Agencies in partnership with the statewide conservation education program Save Our Water – also found that more than 80 percent of Californians view the drought and water shortages as “extremely” or “very” serious problems. Some 86 percent of polled residents believe that California is in a state of persistent water shortage.

The polling also indicates that Californians nearly universally agree that the drought is the most pressing problem facing the state and is more concerning than the economy, education, health care costs and taxes.

“California is indeed a dry state that can expect to see persistent droughts in its future. This polling underscores the fact that a vast majority of Californians understand this new normal,” said ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn. “But the poll also shows that an overwhelming majority of Californians are willing to significantly change their water usage whether we are in a drought or not. This is a sea change in public opinion and bodes well for our future.”

Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources, noted that the poll indicates over three-quarters of Californians have been getting the message about the state’s ongoing drought. DWR is a partner with ACWA in the Save Our Water program.

“Clearly, Californians understand the magnitude of this drought,” said Cowin. “Just as important, they understand that they can help California cope through the collective power of individual actions. If we all shut off sprinklers, make the effort to fix a leak, and urge friends and neighbors to do the same, it will make a difference.”

The poll of registered voters was conducted Feb. 22 – March 1 by the polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, or FM3. Its findings arrive as the State Water Resources Control Board prepares to act on proposed new emergency water conservation regulations today and extend existing ones as the state remains locked in a grinding fourth year of drought. The Sierra snowpack is at record low levels and January was among the driest months on record.

“This poll’s findings stand out among our many years of tracking water issues in California,” said Dave Metz, principal and president of FM3. “We’ve never seen such a huge majority recognize the severity of the water crisis as well as such a large group that views the water problems as ongoing and warranting continued conservation.”

Metz noted that 83 percent of those polled said conserving water is “extremely” or “very” important whether or not water agencies are requiring water conservation, suggesting that for Californians “conserving water has become more of a core value than simply a reaction to regulations, restrictions or other external factors.”

A summary of the poll’s findings is here.

The Save Our Water program is using the poll’s findings to improve outreach to consumers this summer and to help local water agencies develop their own outreach programs on drought and conservation.

Friday, March 13, 2015

DWR unveils plan for new groundwater regs

The state Department of Water Resources has unveiled a "strategic plan" for how it will implement new groundwater regulations and is seeking input from the public.

From the DWR:
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) seeks public input on a draft strategic plan for its role in carrying out the historic sustainable groundwater laws enacted last fall by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.

The draft plan describes DWR's responsibilities and vision for carrying out the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a package of laws that aim to protect the groundwater basins that provide more than half of the water Californians use in dry years.

The Governor’s signing message states "a central feature of these bills is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally." The new laws charge DWR with providing guidance and technical support to local agencies. Under the Act, local agencies must form sustainable groundwater management agencies by June 30, 2017 for basins established by DWR as high and medium priority under the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) Program. By the beginning of 2020, these groundwater sustainability agencies must have adopted groundwater sustainability plans for high and medium priority groundwater basins in critical conditions of overdraft. Groundwater sustainability agencies for all other high and medium priority basins must adopt groundwater sustainability plans by 2022. The laws allow for state intervention through the State Water Resources Control Board if -- and only if -- a local agency fails to manage its groundwater sustainably.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act directs DWR to complete multiple activities, including but not limited to, adoption of regulations for local agency proposed revisions to groundwater basin boundaries, adoption of regulations for evaluating and implementing local agency prepared groundwater sustainability plans, update the prioritization of basins, and conduct groundwater assessments into the next decade.

DWR's Groundwater Sustainability Program Draft Strategic Plan, available here:
*describes current groundwater conditions in California;
*outlines the requirements of the new laws, including a timeline;
*describes related actions under the California Water Action Plan, the governor's five-year strategy for more resilient and reliable water resources;
*lists key intended outcomes and benefits of implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act;
*identifies DWR's goals, objectives, and corresponding actions; and
*describes potential challenges and factors that will be key to success, including public outreach and communication.

The public and stakeholders are invited to send comments and suggestions about the Draft Strategic Plan to sgmps@water.ca.gov. DWR will consider all comments before finalizing the Plan.

“Successful implementation of these laws will require good communication and engagement,” said David Gutierrez, executive program manager for DWR’s Groundwater Sustainability Program. “We spell out DWR’s vision for providing support and technical advice in our draft strategic plan, and we want stakeholders to help us improve and refine that vision.”

Though largely unseen, groundwater serves as a crucial source of water for California. In a typical year, groundwater provides about a third of the water used by residents, farms, and businesses. In dry years, the proportion may be as high as 60 percent. Many communities around the state depend entirely upon groundwater.

In some regions, heavy groundwater pumping has dropped groundwater levels too low for wells to function, caused degradation of water quality, created an irreversible sinking of the land above overdrafted groundwater basins, and harmed wildlife by reducing the connection between groundwater and surface streams. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act seeks to bring key groundwater basins into balance for the long term, thus helping communities cope better with climate change and future droughts.

For more information on groundwater, please visit http://www.water.ca.gov/groundwater/index.cfm.

For more information on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and its implementation, please visit http://www.water.ca.gov/cagroundwater/.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Valley water board to consider climate-related regs

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is holding a workshop today to discuss the anticipated effects of climate change on water quality in the valley region and consider "potential policy and regulatory responses," according to a news advisory sent out yesterday afternoon. The meeting will be held in Sacramento and streamed live online.

The workshop agenda is here. The live webcast site is here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Meager spring snowpack plagues entire West

It's not just California that's experiencing a meager snowpack this spring. As one-time RS scribe Don Jenkins reports in the Capital Press, Washington is on the verge of declaring a drought because of the light snowpack there.

The USDA paints a larger picture in a report this morning.
Warm temperatures in February contributed to further snowpack decline in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, according to data from the third 2015 forecast by the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Snowpack in Nevada, Utah and Idaho also fell further behind normal.

"Nearly a third of our SNOTEL sites in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada are reporting the lowest snowpack ever measured," NRCS Hydrologist Cara McCarthy said. "For the first time, some sites were snow-free on March 1st. These areas can expect reduced summer streamflow."

Recent storms helped relieve dry conditions in the Southwest. However, drought conditions persist in California, Nevada and Utah, as well as in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Areas in Washington and Oregon also remain in drought.

In Western states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply, information about snowpack serves as an indicator of future water availability. Streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm in spring and summer. NWCC scientists analyze the snowpack, air temperature, soil moisture and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.

The Cascades of Oregon and Washington have received near normal levels of precipitation this water year, but it's mostly fallen as rain instead of snow. Rainfall captured by reservoirs in those states will help mitigate dry spring and summer months.

NRCS monitors conditions year-round and will continue to issue monthly forecasts until June. The water supply forecast is part of several USDA efforts to improve public awareness and mitigate the impacts of climate change, including drought and other extreme weather events. Through the creation of the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of the President's Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, tribes and local governments to develop a coordinated response to drought.

Since 1939, USDA has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor. For information on USDA's drought efforts, visit the USDA Disaster and Drought Information webpage. And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the drought resources webpage.

View information by state.
For continuing coverage of the drought, keep watch at CapitalPress.com.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

California grape crush sees 12 percent decline

From the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento:
The Final Grape Crush Report includes all grape tonnage crushed during the 2014 season. Changes in tonnage, Brix and prices from the preliminary report to this final report were due to late reports and corrections to the original data. Reporting errors by some processors have caused a change in some district/variety entries.

The 2014 crush totaled 4,142,934 tons, down 12 percent from the record high 2013 crush of 4,700,377 tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 2,138,294 tons, down 12 percent from 2013. The 2014 white wine variety crush totaled 1,754,503 tons, down 4 percent from 2013. Tons crushed of raisin type varieties totaled 155,514, down 53 percent from 2013, and tons crushed of table type varieties totaled 94,623, down 25 percent from 2013.

The 2014 average price per ton of all varieties was $743.07, up 4 percent from 2013. Average prices for the 2014 crop by type were as follows: red wine grapes, $892.06, up 5 percent from 2013; white wine grapes, $595.61, down 4 percent from 2013; raisin grapes, $232.79, down 9 percent; and table grapes, $233.70, up 5 percent.
In 2014, Chardonnay accounted for the largest percentage of the total crush volume with 17.3 percent. Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for the second leading percentage of crush with 12.3 percent of the total crush. The next eight highest percentages of grapes crushed included wine and raisin grape varieties. Thompson Seedless, the leading raisin grape variety crushed for 2014, held 3.2 percent of the total crush.

District 13, (Madera, Fresno, Alpine, Mono, Inyo Counties; and Kings and Tulare Counties north of Nevada Avenue (Avenue 192)), had the largest share of the State’s crush, at 1,336,946 tons. The average price per ton in District 13 was $307.18.

Grapes produced in District 4 (Napa County) received the highest average price of $4,077.31 per ton, up 10 percent from 2013. District 3 (Sonoma and Marin counties) received the second highest return of $2,318.92, up 4 percent from 2013. The 2014 Chardonnay price of $860.60 was down 1 percent from 2013, and the Cabernet Sauvignon price of $1,426.30 was up 6 percent from 2013. The 2014 average price for Zinfandel was $623.70, down 4 percent from 2013, while the Merlot average price was up 3 percent from 2013 at $774.70 per ton.
For my follow-up story on reasons for the decline, check CapitalPress.com later in the week.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mild, warm rainstorms to reach Redding this week

Rain is likely in the Redding area on Tuesday night and Wednesday and could return next weekend, according to the National Weather Service. These storms won't be snow-producers; high temperatures here could still reach 70.

Here is the weather service's outlook on the first system.
Some Rain and Mountain Snow Tuesday Night through Wednesday


Wet roads.
Minor snow accumulations above 6500 feet Wednesday.
Cooler temperatures Wednesday.

Forecast Confidence

Timing and Strength
Precipitation beginning Tuesday night with most of the precipitation on Wednesday.
Dry and milder Thursday and Friday.
Snow levels lowering below the trans-Sierra passes on Wednesday.

Weather Summary
A moderate (modest) weather system will bring some rain and mountain snow to interior northern California beginning Tuesday night and continuing on Wednesday. See the attached graphic for additional information. Showers may linger into Wednesday evening, but will end on Thursday.

Friday, March 6, 2015

NWS expert: Weak El Nino won't end drought

In the months that El Nino conditions have been developing in the Pacific, forecasters and water officials have been warning that it wouldn't be strong enough to end the doubt. Now with the arrival of the so-called "weird" El Nino (a term the AP no doubt hopes you'll associate with manmade global warming), Michelle Mead, the National Weather Service's warning coordinator in Sacramento, is emphasizing that it won't change California's prospects for precipitation.

She explains:
Well, it took all winter, but the atmosphere finally decided to play nice with the sea surface temperatures and resulted in a Weak El Niño connection. This means convection (Showers and Thunderstorms) have shifted from the Western Pacific to the mid Pacific region, near the dateline. See image below of Convective signature of Neutral (top) vs El Niño (bottom). As a result, CPC issued an El Niño Advisory with this morning's CPC ENSO diagnostic discussion. Basically, it states El Niño has officially emerged, however in a weak state. As you'll recall from emails we've been sending all last fall and this winter, weak El Niño's have little to no impact on California precipitation. El Niño has it's strongest influence during the winter/wet months. Spring officially begins March 20th. Therefore, due to the weak El Nino, we are not expecting significant impacts for California; no end to the drought.
There is an approximately 50-60% chance that El Niño conditions will continue through Summer 2015.

Main takeaway:

Due to the expected weak strength, widespread or significant global impacts are not anticipated
However, certain impacts often associated with El Niño may appear in some locations during the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015
Significant impacts for California are not expected
No improvement of the drought
The mean of the models (bold yellow line in image below) predicts the Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) anomalies to remain at weak El Niño levels from now through summer 2015
If you'd like a bit more background into this latest El Niño Advisory update, please visit the ENSO Blog. They give a less technically worded discussion on the latest update. [...]

Remember, El Niño is not a good predictor of precipitation across northern California.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Redding seminar offers food safety advice for farms

Cleanliness and good planning were key points of emphasis during a University of California Cooperative Extension-sponsored workshop on how small farmers can comply with food safety regulations. The workshop was held today at Northern Valley Catholic Social Service in Redding.

In the photos, UC-Berkeley ag and food systems specialist Jennifer Sowerwine walks attendees through various information packets offered at the conference, and (from left) Happy Valley grower Johanna Trenerry and Montague pasta producers Martin and Susanna Black take part in a hand-washing exercise.

"I'm definitely interested in learning and doing everything that's required," said Redding grower Mary Ocasion, who hosted a demonstration of food safety practices on her farm in the afternoon.

For my story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

UC-Davis' north state projects seek water solutions

Dean, UC-Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

After another winter of below-average precipitation, California's water situation is severe and the short-term outlook is dire. But our situation is not hopeless. The drought's clear and present danger to California's agriculture and economy provides a unique opportunity to improve our state's long-term water management through cooperation, shared vision and science-based solutions.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are working with growers, industry and agencies throughout the state to find practical solutions. Here's a quick look at some of the latest developments.

Professor Helen Dahlke with the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and her team are making headway with groundwater banking, where excess surface water during storms and flood releases is directed to select fields to serve as infiltration basins to replenish aquifers. Dahlke's team has begun a two-month test in an alfalfa field near the Scott River in Siskiyou County, applying water in various amounts to analyze soil saturation, infiltration rates, and whether the winter irrigation adversely affects the alfalfa.

The team hopes to launch similar projects in Orland in Glenn County, where many growers rely solely on groundwater, and in the lower Tulare River area of Tulare County. Groundwater projects with the Almond Board of California are also in the works.

River water for Central Valley farmers was reduced by one-third last year, and 425,000 acres of the world's most fertile land lay fallow. Are there practical ways growers can stretch water without reducing crop production, quality and yield?

Yes, according to results of a water-saving project in the Pajaro Valley of Monterey County led by Professor Samuel Sandoval Solis, a Cooperative Extension specialist with Land, Air and Water Resources. Sandoval's team identified steps that conserved 5,100 acre-feet of water per year without sacrificing crop quality and yield.

Continue reading in the California Farm Bureau Federation's Ag Alert.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LaMalfa, 156 colleagues reject Boehner DHS cave

Explanations of internal House of Representatives politics by my good friend Erin Ryan aside, it's hard to imagine that John Boehner could be much longer for the speakership when 167 members of his own party voted against his immigration cave-in to Democrats, including the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

From LaMalfa's office:
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) today voted against a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill that allowed the President’s immigration amnesty plan to move forward. H.R. 240, which funds DHS for the remainder of the fiscal year, passed 257-167 with only Republicans in opposition.

“I could not in good conscious vote for a bill that allows the President’s immigration plan to move forward. There is nothing clean about this bill. For it to be clean, it would not include radical changes to our nation’s immigration system, such as those the President is attempting to enact outside of our laws,” said LaMalfa. “The President has said 22 times that he lacks the power to change the law without working with Congress, and yet his immigration plan would do just that by giving legal status to millions who entered the country illegally.”

The House had previously passed a DHS funding bill that would prevent the President’s proposal to allow as many as five million illegal immigrants to remain in the country. However, Democrats used procedural tactics to force a vote on H.R. 240 as passed by the Senate, which allows the President’s plan to move forward.
I understand that immigration is important to agricultural industries, which I'm sure is why a couple of San Joaquin Valley lawmakers were among the 75 Republicans who voted for the bill.

But as much as the AP and other agenda-driven media tried to portray what has been going on in Congress as "dysfunction" and "a mess", the fact is that members have engaged in a serious constitutional debate about the separation of powers. I'm sure everyone had opinions as to how it should play out, but to shrug it off as simply another example of congressional gridlock or some members being difficult is frankly intellectually dishonest, not that I would expect anything different from left-wing media. And for Boehner to face a revolt from 167 members of his own party on such a fundamental issue of our time -- and have to form alliances across the aisle to fund an activity one judge has already ruled is illegal -- can't bode well for his future in leadership, or perhaps maybe it shouldn't.

Manual snowpack reading just 5 percent of normal

From the state Department of Water Resources:
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which Californians rely on heavily during the dry summer months for their water needs, continues to disappoint this winter. Despite the snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Range over the weekend that gladdened ski and snowboard enthusiasts, it was not enough to offset weeks with no snow at all.

Today’s manual survey by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) at the Phillips snow course in the mountains 90 miles east of Sacramento found 0.9 inches of water content in the snow, just 5 percent of the March 3 historical average for that site. Electronic readings by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) today indicate the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack is 4.4 inches, 16 percent of average for the date. The central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20 percent of average) and 5 inches (22 percent) respectively.

Statewide, 103 electronic sensors found today’s snow water equivalent to be 5 inches, 19 percent of the March 3 multi-decade average. When DWR conducted the season’s first two manual surveys on December 30 and January 29, the statewide water content was 50 percent and 25 percent respectively of the historical averages for those dates.

The snowpack’s water content this year is historically low for early March. Only in 1991 was the water content of the snowpack lower – 18 percent of that early-March average. Manual surveys of 180 snow courses this year reveal even less water content – just 13 percent of the early-March average, the lowest in DWR’s records for this time of year. The difference between electronic and manual surveys is explained by the higher elevation of most electronic sensors, where they receive more snow than many of the lower-elevation snow courses.

After records for dryness were set in many parts of the state in January, two storms in early February delivered enough precipitation at eight northern Sierra weather stations to bring the month’s total up to historical standards there. That short rainy interlude was followed by three weeks of virtually no rainfall in the northern Sierra, and precipitation at the eight stations since Water Year 2015 began on October 1 is now only 87 percent of average for that period. Further south, the 5-station San Joaquin index is 48 percent of normal, and the six-station index in the Tulare Basin is similarly far below normal at 51 percent.

Weeks of spring-like weather have produced more rain than snow when storms did arrive during California’s warmest winter on record. California’s historically wettest winter months have already passed, and it’s now almost certain that California will be in drought throughout 2015 for the fourth consecutive year.

Unless this month approximates the 1991 “Miracle March” with significantly more precipitation than normal, the traditional wet season will end on April 1 with an alarmingly low amount of water stored in the mountains as snow.

In normal years, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. The greater the snowpack water content, the greater the likelihood California’s reservoirs will receive ample runoff as the snowpack melts to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.

No water bond funds for the raising of Shasta Dam?

I've reported several times that the proposal to raise Shasta Dam has been identified as a potential recipient of funds under Proposition 1, the water bond that passed in November. But a legislative consultant tells me that spending bond funds on the dam wouldn't fly.

Tina Cannon Leahy, principal consultant for the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, emailed me last night:
It is a common misconception that Proposition 1 can be used to fund a raise of Shasta Dam. However, Section 79711(e) (“General Provisions”) of Prop. 1 states (emphasis added):
(e) Nothing in this division shall be construed to affect the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (Chapter 1.4 (commencing with Section 5093.50) of Division 5 of the Public Resources Code) or the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. Sec. 1271 et seq.) and funds authorized pursuant to this division shall not be available for any project that could have an adverse effect on the values upon which a wild and scenic river or any other river is afforded protections pursuant to the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act or the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Section 79751 of Prop. 1 (the “Storage” section) states (emphasis added):
79751. Projects for which the public benefits are eligible for funding under this chapter consist of only the following:
(a) Surface storage projects identified in the CALFED Bay-Delta Program Record of Decision, dated August 28, 2000, except for projects prohibited by Chapter 1.4 (commencing with Section 5093.50) of Division 5 of the Public Resources Code.
(b) Groundwater storage projects and groundwater contamination prevention or remediation projects that provide water storage benefits….
The California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which commences in the Public Resources Code at Section 5093.50, states:
5093.542. The Legislature finds and declares that the McCloud River possesses extraordinary resources in that it supports one of the finest wild trout fisheries in the state...
(c) Except for participation by the Department of Water Resources in studies involving the technical and economic feasibility of enlargement of Shasta Dam, no department or agency of the state shall assist or cooperate with, whether by loan, grant, license, or otherwise, any agency of the federal, state, or local government in the planning or construction of any dam, reservoir, diversion, or other water impoundment facility that could have an adverse effect on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River, or on its wild trout fishery…
So, Proposition 1 actually precludes any of its funding being used for a raise of Shasta Dam.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been studying alternatives for the dam that include raising it as much as 18 feet, and the Winnemem-Wintu Tribe -- which opposes the project for cultural reasons -- was concerned enough that it held a ceremonial war dance last fall in the heart of the Proposition 1 campaign. However, the statutes are definitely something the California Water Commission would have to consider if a funding request for the dam project came its way.

Monday, March 2, 2015

State to increase water deliveries to 20 percent

Just three days after the Feds announced a much-anticipated zero allocation for farms without senior water rights, the state is actually increasing its expected deliveries.

From the California Department of Water Resources:
Few storms have graced California so far this winter, but those that did – in mid-December and early February – will allow the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to increase water deliveries to most customers of the State Water Project (SWP) by an additional 204,000 acre-feet (AF).

The modest increase in SWP allocation amounts to enough water to meet the needs of approximately 408,000 households for a year. DWR officials are confident they can supply the additional water thanks to runoff of December and February storms that was pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos. The reservoir holds 627,000 acre-feet more water now than it did at this time a year ago. Water to meet the slight increase in allocation will not come from Lake Oroville in Northern California; DWR seeks to preserve storage in that keystone SWP reservoir to meet demands in late 2015 and next year, should it prove dry as well.

The additional deliveries will increase this year’s SWP allocation from 15 percent to 20 percent, for total deliveries of 840,000 acre-feet of water. The 29 public water agencies that take delivery of SWP supplies have requested 4,172,686 AF. A 20 percent allocation would be the second-lowest since 1991, when agricultural customers of the project got a zero allocation and municipal customers received 30 percent. Last year, SWP deliveries were five percent of requested amounts for all customers.

The slight increase in SWP deliveries will help to meet the needs of water districts in the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Clara Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California. The past three years of drought have seriously diminished local reservoirs and aquifers relied on by these agencies. They also have used most of the water carried over in SWP reservoirs from 2013 and earlier years. Roughly 25 million Californians and nearly one million acres of irrigated farmland, mostly in Kern and Kings counties, depend upon the SWP for at least some of their supplies.

“We’re grateful that close coordination among water and wildlife agencies in managing limited runoff this winter will afford State Water Project contractors a slight increase in their supplies,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “We’re confident that this water, delivered to local districts around the state, will help offset some economic harm of this extended drought.”

The new SWP allocation of 20 percent replaces the allocation of 15 percent announced on January 15. The initial allocation of 10 percent, made on December 1, was increased after mid-December storms boosted river flows and tight coordination among federal and state water and wildlife-protection agencies allowed the SWP to store runoff south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta without violating statutory and regulatory obligations to protect wildlife and water quality.

The last 100 percent SWP allocation – difficult to achieve even in wet years because of Delta pumping restrictions to protect threatened and endangered fish species – was in 2006. SWP allocations for recent years:

2014 – 5 percent
2013 – 35 percent
2012 – 65 percent
2011 – 80 percent
2010 – 50 percent
2009 – 40 percent
2008 – 35 percent
2007 – 60 percent

The October-through-April season when California on average gets 90 percent of its precipitation is winding down. This year is shaping up as a critically dry fourth consecutive year of drought. Thanks to a couple of large storms, one in December and another in February, major reservoirs in Northern California hold more water now than at this time last year, but most remain below historical average storage for this time of year. Major reservoirs are generally even more depleted in Southern California, where water districts depended heavily on local supplies last year.

DWR snow surveyors will make manual measurements of the Sierra Nevada snowpack tomorrow, March 3. Electronic readings show the mountain snowpack statewide stands at just 19 percent of typical water content for this time of year. That snowpack typically provides about a third of the water people use in California each year. Without a series of major storms in the remaining weeks of winter, Californians cannot expect the Sierra snowpack to replenish reservoirs and groundwater basins.

In January 2014, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a drought state of emergency and asked Californians to voluntarily curb their water use by 20 percent. The state recorded 5,620 fires during calendar year 2014 resulting in 90,606 acres burned, and about 1,000 fires more than the annual average of the preceding five years. Vast tracts of farmland have been fallowed and some communities have been short on drinking water.

Every Californian can help stretch the state’s limited supplies by using water carefully. Outdoor landscaping needs little water in the winter, so shut off sprinklers, especially for the first couple of weeks after a rain. Replace washers in leaking faucets or make other repairs to stop leaks. Run dishwashers and clothes washers only with full loads. For more water-saving tips, visit saveourwater.com.
Growers had been uneasy about the prospect of even getting 15 percent considering the light snowpack, which the DWR is set to measure by hand again tomorrow.