California has been the nation’s leading agricultural and dairy state for the past 50 years. The state’s 80,500 farms and ranches produce more than 400 different agricultural products. These products generated a record $44.7 billion in sales value in 2012, accounting for 11.3 percent of the US total.
Breaking down the state’s agricultural role in the country, California produces 21 percent of the nation’s milk supply, 23 percent of its cheese and 92 percent of all grapes. The state also produces half of all domestically-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables, including some products, such as almonds, walnuts, artichokes, persimmons and pomegranates, of which 99 percent are grown in California.
Overall, about 3 percent of employment in the state is directly or indirectly related to agriculture.
It is the fall harvest here in this fertile stretch of oaks and hills that produces some of the country’s best wine. This season, though, workers also are plucking the sticky, fragrant flowers of a new crop. Marijuana is emerging among the vineyards, not as a rival to the valley’s grapes but as a high-value commodity that could help reinvigorate a fading agricultural tradition along the state’s Central Coast.
The Oakdale Irrigation District has completed a $15 million tunnel that bypasses a section of canal at risk of rock slides. The 5,949-foot tunnel a few miles east of Knights Ferry is the 10th that OID has built since it formed in 1909 to tap the Stanislaus River. One machine bored from the east and one from the west after the project launched in September 2017, with a break for the 2018 irrigation season.
He is among more than 80 farmers now engaged in a state-funded program aimed at increasing carbon concentrations in California’s soil. Part of the state’s overarching goal of curbing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, the California Healthy Soils Initiative took effect a year ago, when the state’s cap-and-trade program made $7.5 million available in small grants to farmers like Poncia. This year, the Healthy Soils Program, one component of the initiative, is receiving about $15 million.
Runoff from farms and feedlots has badly polluted Iowa’s waterways, more than half of which do not meet federal quality standards. Now, an unlikely coalition is calling for stricter controls to clean up the drinking water sources for millions of the state’s residents.
Stanislaus County will ask the state Supreme Court for a ruling on whether environmental review is a necessary step for a new water well. In August, a state appeals court overturned the Stanislaus Superior Court’s decision in the Protecting Our Water lawsuit, which sought an injunction against county well permit approvals.
For years, state boats have sprayed thousands of pounds of herbicides into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to kill invasive aquatic weeds. And, for years, California officials have insisted they closely monitor their chemical use to protect the ecologically fragile estuary and the drinking and irrigation water the Delta supplies to millions of Californians. A pending court case casts fresh doubt on those claims.
The lush plains east of Yosemite National Park offer a window into a bygone California — a place where sage grouse welcome the arrival of spring with theatrical mating rituals and cattle graze on verdant pastures. For nearly a century, these lands have been made green thanks to annual flooding by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, helping maintain cattle forage and keeping alive a culture of ranching in southern Mono County.
California farmers are laboring under a daunting edict: They must stop over-pumping groundwater from beneath their ranches. The saving grace is that state law gives them more than 20 years to do it. Now, however, a landmark court ruling could force many farmers to curb their groundwater consumption much sooner than that, landing like a bombshell in the contentious world of California water.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that a farming company has agreed to pay $5.3 million in civil penalties and costs to perform work to repair disturbed streams and wetlands on property near the Sacramento River. … “Like the Duarte settlement last year, today’s agreement serves the public interest in enforcement of the Clean Water Act and deterrence of future violations,” said Jeffrey H. Wood, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
Farmers in the Central Valley are broiling about California’s plan to increase flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems to help struggling salmon runs avoid extinction. But north of Sacramento, River Garden Farms is taking part in some extraordinary efforts to provide the embattled fish with refuge from predators and enough food to eat. And while there is no direct benefit to one farm’s voluntary actions, the belief is what’s good for the fish is good for the farmers.
Central Valley farmers and their elected leaders converged on Sacramento on Tuesday to accuse the state of engineering a water grab that puts the fate of fish above their fields and jeopardizes a thriving agricultural economy. The allegations came at a meeting of the powerful State Water Resources Control Board, which recently unveiled a far-reaching plan to shore up the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the West Coast’s largest estuary and a source of water for much of California.
The Trump administration is accelerating efforts to pump more of Northern California’s water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, setting up a bruising conflict with state officials and environmentalists.
A lawsuit in California’s Imperial Valley could determine who controls the single largest share of Colorado River water in the West — a few hundred landowning farmers, or the elected five-member board of the Imperial Irrigation District.
Florida and Mexico are having a food fight over tomatoes and other fresh produce. Will farmers in California and Washington get caught in the crossfire? That’s one question that swirls around the final negotiations between the Trump administration and Mexico on a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement.
Land subsidence caused by groundwater pumping has been observed in the San Joaquin Valley for decades. Increased reliance on aquifers during the last decade resulted in subsidence rates in excess of a foot per year in some parts of the region.
While subsidence was minimal in 2017 due to one of the wettest years on record, any return to dry conditions would likely set the stage for subsidence to resume as the region relies more heavily on groundwater than surface water.
Alice Peters Auditorium
Fresno, CA 93740
A new program in California aimed at tracking agricultural water consumption is off to a bumpy start, highlighting the challenges of monitoring an industry that has historically enjoyed limited oversight.
More than two decades after Los Angeles was forced to cut water diversions to protect California’s natural resources, the state is poised to impose similar restrictions on San Francisco and some of the Central Valley’s oldest irrigation districts. The proposal represents a dramatic new front in one of California’s most enduring water fights: the battle over the pastoral delta that is part of the West Coast’s largest estuary and also an important source of water for much of the state.
When Roberta Jaffe and her husband planted their small vineyard, one factor trumped all others: groundwater. Knowing that this isolated valley in south-central California relies on a depleted aquifer, the couple “dry farmed” their Condor’s Hope Ranch, using 5 percent or less of the water required by a conventional vineyard. … So Jaffe was alarmed when Harvard University’s endowment fund installed an 850-acre conventional vineyard just down the road in 2014 — and drilled 14 wells.
For decades, farmworkers have stooped down to pick ripe cantaloupes off vines along the ground. Now, in an agricultural community near the California-Arizona border, a harvesting machine affectionately known as ‘The Melonator’ is beginning to do this work. … This is the second season that melon farmer Bart Fisher has used the machine.
The bottom is falling out of America’s most productive farmland. Literally. Swaths of the San Joaquin Valley have sunk 28 feet — nearly three stories — since the 1920s, and some areas have dropped almost 3 feet in the past two years. Blame it on farmers’ relentless groundwater pumping.
Imposing new regulations on an existing industry comes with challenges, and in Humboldt, environmental concerns are among them. Earlier this month, the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Eel River, which works to protect fisheries and watersheds in the region, filed a lawsuit against Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors.
David Phippen’s almond orchards in Manteca are a few months away from harvest, the nuts still green on the trees. That gives him some breathing room before China’s tariffs on almonds — California’s largest agricultural export — and other crops really bite.
In California’s agricultural heartland, the San Joaquin Valley, excessive pumping of groundwater has resulted in subsidence, damaging crucial infrastructure, including roads, bridges and water conveyance.
The [Klamath] water users association on Wednesday filed a motion in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of San Francisco, asking that the Klamath Tribes’ case be dismissed in San Francisco’s court, and that the case be heard in federal court located closer to Upper Klamath Lake, where the case originates.
As more than a million Americans face losing food stamps under President Trump’s vision for reauthorizing the farm bill, his vow to wean families off dependence doesn’t apply to thousands of others who have been relying much of their adult lives on payments from the government’s sprawling agriculture program.
Water orders have been trickling in to the [Klamath Irrigation] district since irrigation water delivery officially began Friday, and calls are anticipated to ramp up as the water does, with ditch-riders like [Mitchell] Brown there to deliver the water.
Amid neat rows of orchards, on cattle ranches and dairy farms across the southern territory of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the churn of daily life offers few hints of an imminent political spectacle. This is another California, where conservative values are often taken for granted, and where the tide of liberal “resistance” runs as dry as its unirrigated dirt.
Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office announced late Wednesday afternoon that up to 3,500 acre feet is available for delivery to Klamath Project irrigators starting today and running through May 31 before deliveries start on June 1.
The boat ramps at Copco and Iron Gate reservoirs are temporarily closed through June, and possibly later, due to a draw-down of water requested for use by Bureau of Reclamation for Klamath Project irrigators. … Reclamation will use the water to keep elevations up to standard at Upper Klamath Lake and to support water deliveries to Klamath Project irrigators to cover a shortfall until water deliveries to the Klamath Project take place in June.
We traveled deep into California’s water hub and traverse the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that supports the state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. The tour made its way to San Francisco Bay, and included a ferry ride.
Amid all the excitement around marijuana legalization in America, another newly legal crop has received comparatively little attention: hemp. And yet hemp may prove to be even more transformative, especially in the West’s arid landscapes. Hemp is a variety of the cannabis sativa plant that is not psychoactive.
This spring in California several orchards around Solano and nearby counties sported a new look: lush carpets of mixed grasses growing as tall as 3ft beneath the trees’ bare branches. By summer the scene will change as farmers grow and harvest their nut crops, but the work of the grasses will continue unseen. Cover cropping, an agricultural technique as old as dirt, is taking root in California.
The final stretch of the McCloud River before it empties into the state’s largest reservoir is a place of raw beauty. … This part of the McCloud is off limits to almost everyone except a few Native Americans and some well-heeled fly fishermen. Its gatekeeper is an unlikely one, an organization that also happens to be a hugely controversial player in California water politics.
Local tribes and environmental groups declared victory Tuesday after a federal judge shot down a bid by Klamath Basin farmers and water districts to block dam releases meant to prevent fish disease outbreaks. Basin irrigators argued the rain and snow fall in 2017 reduced the chance of fish disease outbreaks this year, but said drought conditions in the basin this year could cause significant economic impacts to their region if water deliveries are delayed by the dam releases.
Many Americans know the name Kesterson as the California site where thousands of birds and fish were discovered with gruesome deformities in 1983, a result of exposure to selenium-poisoned farm runoff. Thirty-five years later, it is one of the oldest unresolved water problems in the state.
According to a new report in the journal PLOS One, we Americans wasted just over 25% of our food between 2007 and 2014. … Each year, just short of 4.2 trillion gallons of water were used to produce all this uneaten food. That includes nearly 1.3 trillion gallons of water to grow uneaten fruits and 1 trillion gallons of water to grow uneaten vegetables.
In 2007, at Jeff Creque’s behest, John Wick got in touch with Whendee Silver, an ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Letting cows graze on his property had certainly made the land look healthier, he told Silver. But he and Creque wanted to know: Had it put carbon in the ground? And if so, was it possible to measure how much?
We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.
Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
Every five years, a bipartisan farm bill is passed by Congress that impacts people nationwide and right here at home. On Thursday, a draft of the legislation was released by the House Agriculture Committee. While the bill is welcomed by many, some called it a betrayal to rural families.
A federal judge heard arguments from attorneys representing Klamath Basin tribes, irrigators and government agencies on Wednesday in a case that is challenging the need for dam water releases meant to protect threatened fish species on the Klamath River from deadly parasitic outbreaks like those that occurred in 2014 and 2015.
The 2 p.m. court hearing on Wednesday at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco will be overseen by William Orrick. Orrick’s ruling will potentially decide factors leading to a start date — or not — for [Klamath] Basin irrigators, in a lawsuit between Bureau of Reclamation vs. Yurok and Hoopa Tribes.
In an attempt to meet the needs of Klamath Basin irrigators and endangered fish species in the basin in a time of drought, a federal agency is proposing to reduce the amount of dam water releases to the Klamath River that are meant to protect threatened Coho salmon from deadly parasite outbreaks like those that occurred in 2014 and 2015.
Last year, farmers who lead the irrigation district in Blythe sued the biggest urban water district in the country to challenge what they called a “water grab.” Now the Palo Verde Irrigation District has dropped that lawsuit, looking to smooth the way toward a possible settlement with the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
We ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.
Local tribes’ say critically important dam water releases meant to protect threatened salmon on the Klamath River from deadly parasitic disease outbreaks are being contested by irrigators and water districts in the Klamath Basin as they face drought conditions.
Look out, cowboy. Climate change campaigners are coming for your burger business. So are mushroom growers, Silicon Valley investors and the billionaire Bill Gates. … But the cattle industry is not going down without a fight.
A group of Klamath Basin water users Wednesday filed a motion in federal court in San Francisco pushing for at least a delay in the court-ordered injunction to keep 50,000 acre feet held in reserve in Upper Klamath Lake. The water is to be used to flush out the Klamath River in the spring to mitigate the impact of disease on coho salmon.
Over the past decade, California farmers have been seeing symptoms of climate change in their fields and orchards: less winter chill, crops blooming earlier, more heat waves and years of drought when the state baked in record temperatures. Scientists say California agriculture will face much bigger and more severe impacts due to climate change in the coming decades.
Thousands of water-right holders who were told to cease diversions during the last drought were deprived of due process, a judge found Wednesday, raising questions about how the state will handle future shortages. … At the center of the legal dispute was the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District near Tracy.
The mood was calm but somber Tuesday afternoon as Klamath Project irrigators gathered to learn more about the impact of drought conditions in the Klamath Basin from Oregon Water Resources Department and Klamath Water Users Association staff at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.
With the threat of another drought looming, west San Joaquin Valley farmers received some dismal news Tuesday about this year’s water allocation. The initial allocation from the Central Valley Project is 20 percent, the U.S Bureau of Reclamation announced on Tuesday.
“You might already know this …,” Central Valley farmer Sarah Woolf offered politely, before launching on a primer on California’s convoluted water system. … It was the second day of [U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny] Perdue’s recent whistle-stop educational tour of California’s $45-billion agriculture industry, and Perdue, a veterinarian and former two-term governor of Georgia, got an earful.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Tuesday that most farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta who get water from the federal Central Valley Project will receive just 20 percent of their requested allocation this year. … The State Water Project has set an initial allocation of 20 percent for all of its farm and municipal customers.
Irrigation season was delayed in 2017 as storm after storm kept farm and garden soil moist. Fast-forward to 2018, which has started out very dry and brought calls to fill the canals early. So are we back to serious drought in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, which endured one from 2012 to 2016?
Temperatures in most rural areas of the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of the state’s agricultural sector, are expected to fall to the mid-20s Tuesday morning. The below-freezing weather could kill blooms on almond and cherry trees, which appeared earlier than usual because of the unseasonably warm weather this month.
Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are starting to shape the 2018 farm bill – a comprehensive food and agriculture bill passed about every five years. Most observers associate the farm bill with food policy, but its conservation section is the single largest source of funding for soil, water and wildlife conservation on private land in the United States.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said President Donald Trump made a commitment to him in the Oval Office last year not to cut crop insurance, a key program for farmers. Trump’s budget proposal cuts the program anyway. … Overall, Trump’s budget slashes the budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $3.7 billion, a 16 percent decrease.
A drought year similar to 2015’s dry conditions are anticipated by the Klamath Irrigation District, and without the financial resources available in 2015, as well as at least a week delay in water delivery to Klamath Project irrigators in April, according to Ty Kliewer, board president, on Friday.
California is once again suing the Trump Administration, joining New York and eight other states in a case about water. The states filed the lawsuit Tuesday just hours after federal agencies announced a new delay in the federal Clean Water Rule.
From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees some of the nation’s most prized natural resources: vast expanses of public lands rich in oil, gas, coal, grazing for livestock, habitat for wildlife, hunting ranges, fishing streams and hiking trails.
In the United States, the largest single source of public conservation funding comes from an unexpected piece of legislation: the farm bill. Although the bulk of the farm bill focuses on commodity subsidies and nutrition assistance, the most recent version allocated more than $5 billion in annual funding for various conservation programs. The farm bill is also a venue to set policy and pilot new programs that grow conservation on working lands in order to balance production of crops, timber, and livestock with environmental quality.
I’m [Mark Arax] going to Kern County, just shy of the mountains, to figure out how the biggest farmers in America, led by the biggest of them all, are not only keeping alive their orchards and vineyards during drought but adding more almonds (79,000 acres), more pistachios (73,000 acres), more grapes (35,000 acres), and more mandarins (13,000 acres). Even as the supplies of federal and state water have dropped to near zero, agriculture in Kern keeps chugging along, growing more intensive.
Lani Estill’s family ranches on thousands of acres in Modoc County on the border of Nevada and California. Her operation, Bare Ranch, sits in a place called Surprise Valley. It’s a beautiful almost forgotten place “Where the West still lives” — that’s the county’s motto.
The drought could be crippling but the wine will be good. That is the happy conclusion of a study published today in the journal, Science. … That means farmers may not need to water their vineyards as much as previously thought during a dry spell.
Think of California’s smog problem and you probably think of tailpipes and smokestacks. A startling new study led by UC Davis, however, says the fertilizer in farm soils is a major contributor to smog in California.
California, alone, produces more than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. The California Farm Bureau Federation notes that Canada is the second largest export destination for the state’s agricultural products, while Mexico is fifth.
The Eel River was once home to one of the largest salmon populations on the West Coast. But for nearly a century, a large share of its flow has been diverted for hydroelectric power and irrigation, helping build Northern California into a world powerhouse of winemaking. … So it should come as no surprise that the prospect of ending those water diversions is stirring concern across the region.
Nothing sharpens the political divide in California like a fight over water. Just before New Year’s, the U.S. Bureau of Administration announced it would try to “maximize water deliveries” to the agricultural districts that belong to the federal government’s Central Valley Project.
The project is called the Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields Project. It’s part of a greater effort to restore threatened fish species — the Sacramento Valley Salmon Recovery Program. The project comes at a key time: A recent UC Davis study suggests that winter run chinook salmon could go extinct if efforts to recover the species aren’t taken up.
A meeting in Chico has been scheduled for Thursday to take input on a Trump Administration plan to maximize water deliveries from the federal Central Valley Project. The project, which dates to the 1930s, consists of 18 dams and reservoirs and 500 miles of canals that primarily deliver water to farms and cities in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.
Agricultural abundance is a pillar of the California dream. In 2016 the state turned out more than US$45 billion worth of meat, milk and crops. Long before nutritionists agreed that fresh fruits and vegetables should be the center of American diets, California farmers had planted much of their land in these products, and today they produce half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts.
In a quiet agricultural community in Fresno County things have been sinking for a long time. California’s Central Valley subsidence problem was discovered decades ago, right around El Nido. Now, this town is more famous for its elevation than its population because agriculture’s demand for water here has sent pumps ever deeper into the ground, causing the valley floor to sink by dozens of feet.
In the final days of 2017, President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would consider sending as much water as possible from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farmers and cities to the south. The notice comes as a follow-up to a speech Trump made in Fresno during his presidential campaign, when he condemned the downstream flow of river water into the ocean as “insane.”
President Trump delivered an economic victory lap during a speech to farmers on Monday in which he vastly overstated the size of the tax cuts passed by Congress late last year and played up a rollback of regulations on American businesses. … The president drew thunderous applause by celebrating the reversal of a regulation known as the Waters of the United States, which many rural landowners had opposed.
Farmers are looking for a sign from President Donald Trump that their issues mean as much to him as their votes do. Trump is scheduled to speak at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual conference in Nashville on Monday, the first sitting president to address the group in 26 years.
States throughout the West have rushed to legalize marijuana over the last four years. The biggest by far is California, where recreational use of the drug became legal on January 1. The states are clamoring for the tax revenue in these new markets, but they seem less concerned with how they may affect water resources.
At a state briefing on environmental rules that await growers entering California’s soon-to-be-legal marijuana trade, organic farmers Ulysses Anthony, Tracy Sullivan and Adam Mernit listened intently, eager to make their humble cannabis plot a model of sustainable agriculture in a notoriously destructive industry dominated by the black market. … Complying with water laws alone would mean daily record-keeping, permit applications, inspections and more, state officials said.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said glyphosate, the primary ingredient in the weed killer Roundup and one of the most widely used herbicides in agriculture, likely does not cause cancer.
Already short of funding, Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels project is being challenged in court by a bloc of San Joaquin Valley farmers insisting they shouldn’t be forced to help foot the $17.1 billion price tag. The valley farmers, located mainly in Kern and Kings counties, voiced their objections in a Sacramento court filing opposing the Brown administration’s plan to issue bonds to pay for the tunnels.
Groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley – producer of half the state’s agricultural output – has averaged roughly 1.8 million acre-feet annually since the mid-1980s. Even before the start of the most recent drought in 2011, a few San Joaquin farmers recognized the dire need for sustainable water management and started individually pioneering a groundwater recharge practice that has since gained statewide traction.
This tour explored the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as participants learned about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.
All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants got an on-site update of repair efforts on the Oroville Dam spillway.
Participants of this tour snake along the San Joaquin River to learn firsthand about one of the nation’s largest and most expensive river restoration projects.
The San Joaquin River was the focus of one of the most contentious legal battles in California water history, ending in a 2006 settlement between the federal government, Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environmental groups.
A team of researchers and Marysville rice farmers initiated a study this week in Yuba County to see if introducing fish to a flooded rice field could both reduce methane emissions and allow for a new reliable protein source.
There will be no cannabis cappuccinos or drone deliveries in California under the new pot rules state officials released Thursday that regulate everything from who can legally sell and deliver marijuana to how it must be packaged and transported.
When 50,000 acre-feet of water went gushing out of the Sacramento River last month, it fast became a test of California’s ability to protect its environmental policies from an increasingly hostile Trump administration. The episode proved humbling.
Pungent, sometimes toxic blobs are fouling waterways from the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay, from the Snake River in Idaho to New York’s Finger Lakes and reservoirs in California’s Central Valley. … California last year reported toxic blooms in more than 40 lakes and waterways, the most in state history.
This year, the annual bill governing national defense policy almost settled a three-decades-old conflict in California over toxic water draining from farm fields. Lawmakers finished resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions of the military bill, legislation that addresses troop numbers and overseas operations, on Wednesday.
One of the nation’s most successful partnerships between farm and urban water agencies has lately run into serious turbulence, potentially threatening an important Colorado River water-sharing deal. Twelve years ago, the Palo Verde Irrigation District in Blythe, California, signed an agreement with the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
California Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers asked the U.S. government Friday for $7.4 billion to help rebuild after a cluster of fires tore through the heart of wine country, killing more than 40 people and leaving thousands without housing.
Droughts. Soaking winters. Heat waves. Wildfires. The last several years have whipsawed West Coast winemakers such as David Graves, who produces that oh-so-delicate of varietals, pinot noir. It is also prompting vintners to ponder whether climate change — once seen as distant concern — is already visiting their vineyards.
Over the past 12 years, the country’s biggest urban water agency has paid farmers about $190 million not to grow crops on thousands of acres near the Colorado River in the Palo Verde Valley. The water has gone to Los Angeles and other cities across Southern California, and in return, the farmers who’ve left some of their lands unplanted have been able to count on additional income.
With the marijuana legalization date of Jan. 1, 2018 rapidly approaching in California, the state is getting serious about regulations. On Tuesday, the State Water Board adopted new environmental rules for cannabis cultivation to protect water flows and water quality in rivers and streams.
A bloc of San Joaquin farmers tentatively endorsed the Delta tunnels project Thursday, becoming the first significant agricultural group to support the struggling plan. But the level of support from members of the Kern County Water Agency, which serves much of the $7 billion-a-year farm economy at the southern end of the valley, was less than wholehearted.
The owners of Don Pedro Reservoir made their pitch Tuesday for how it can serve both people and Tuolumne River fish over the next half-century. The boards of the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts each voted 5-0 at separate meetings to submit their final application for a new federal license for the project.
As massive fires continued to burn in the epicenter of the U.S. wine industry Monday, Napa and Sonoma vintners braced to confront the long-term consequences of a disastrous event that could affect the supply of grapes, the quality of the region’s wines and the local tourism industries for years to come.
Planned hiring into 2018 covers a range of state agencies: Fifty people are bound for the Public Health Department, 65 are slated to join the Water Resources Control Board … Environmental scientists will be responsible for developing standards for pot grows near streams, to make sure fertilizer or pesticides do not taint the water or harm fish.
Beside the winding curves of the Colorado River, the Palo Verde Valley spreads out in a lush plain in the middle of the desert, a farming oasis filled with canals and fields of hay. For 12 years, the valley’s farmers have been participating in a program that pays them to leave some of their lands unplanted and fallow, helping to slake the thirst of Los Angeles and cities across Southern California.
California consumers will soon have two choices in cannabis: clean, legal and pricey — or dirty, illicit and cheap. Think Whole Foods vs. El Chapo. The big difference will be the amount of pesticides in your weed.
By a 7-1 vote, the state’s largest irrigation district decided not to join California WaterFix — a $17-billion plan to build two tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that would re-engineer the way Northern California supplies are moved to the rest of the state.
Westlands Water District, whose board of directors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to help pay for the tunnels, says it needs to spread the costs among a greater number of water districts, both north and south of the Delta, to make the project affordable to the Fresno and Kings county farmers who get water from Westlands.
[Santa Clara] County supervisors have approved a 45-day moratorium on marijuana growing operations that can be extended for two years while they consider next steps in what officials called a changing landscape, as the state drafts its own regulations on recreational pot cultivation. … “The environmental damage we’ve seen is very disturbing,” [Deputy County Executive Sylvia] Gallegos said.
One of California’s largest Colorado River farm water districts is suing the state’s largest municipal water agency, charging that efforts to move farm water to cities are threatening the viability of agriculture in one of the oldest farming valleys on the river.
When folks talk about “black gold” in California’s Central Valley, it’s usually a reference to oil – unless you’re in the dairy business. No state in the country produces more milk than California, thanks to its 1.7 million cows. Those cows also produce a lot of manure – 120 pounds per cow per day.
Kern County has agreed to stop challenging the City of Los Angeles over its practice of dumping treated human waste on Kern County farmland, capping a bitter legal battle that has spanned more than a decade.
Brett Baker steps off Sutter Island Road and scrambles down the bank of a levee to the edge of Steamboat Slough. … At Baker’s feet is a 6-inch-wide steel pipe that carries water from the slough through the levee and into his family’s century-old pear orchard.
Sacramento County led a cascade of area governments suing the state in an effort to block the Delta tunnels, saying the $17 billion project would harm local farmers, endangered fish and low-income communities at the south end of the county.
Northern California farmer John Duarte spent years fighting the federal government after being fined for plowing over protected wetlands on his property. … But just before his trial was set to start Tuesday, Duarte settled.
In a show of support, the Butte County Farm Bureau visited John Duarte’s Paskenta Road property south of Red Bluff Friday morning, issuing a challenge for other farm bureau organizations to join it in supporting the legal battle involving the property that returns to court Tuesday in Sacramento.
If you drive Highway 99 through California’s Central Valley, you’ll pass through the heart of farm country, where the state’s bounty blooms with hundreds of crops – everything from peaches to pistachios, from tangerines to tomatoes. You’ll also pass through dozens of communities, large and small, whose water systems are tainted by a newly regulated contaminant, 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP), which for decades was used in agricultural fumigants injected into farmland across the Valley.
Lawyers filed a $15 million government claim on Tuesday on behalf of walnut farmers who say they lost more than two dozen acres of land along the Feather River when the Oroville Dam spillway failed in February, causing massive flooding and destructive erosion in the area below.
Republican-backed federal legislation with strong support from agricultural communities in California aims to eradicate salmon from much of the San Joaquin River. It will nullify numerous laws protecting wetlands and waterways in order to provide farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with more northern California water.
Ryan Hartman is driving from field to field in the Klamath Basin, giving what amounts to a masterclass on how to run logistics for 3,000 acres of farmland. He troubleshoots equipment at one spot, sets planting depth drills on another a mile away, and farther on, shows a few of his 12 employees where to install an irrigation pipe.
The California Farm Bureau and two ranchers’ associations sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday, challenging a year-old decision to designate more than 1.8 million acres of rural California as “critical habitat” for three species of frogs and toads that are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Northern California farmer John Duarte, facing millions of dollars in fines for plowing a Sacramento Valley wheat field, previously sought help from President Donald Trump’s attorney general and EPA chief to get the government off his back. Now Duarte is making an 11th-hour bid for a dismissal of the federal government’s high-profile case against him.
AgroBot is still more John Deere than C-3PO — a boxy contraption moving in fits and starts, with its computer-driven sensors, graspers and cutters missing 1 in 3 berries. Such has been the progress of ag-tech in California, where despite the adoption of drones, iPhone apps and satellite-driven sensors, the hand and knife still harvest the bulk of more than 200 crops.
The drought may be over and Central Valley farmers are getting more water than they have in years, but that hasn’t stopped congressional Republicans from resurrecting a bill that would strip environmental protections for fish so more water can be funneled to agriculture. … Some version of [Rep. David] Valadao’s bill has been introduced off and on since 2011 without success.
Groundwater replenishment happens through direct recharge and in-lieu recharge. Water used for direct recharge most often comes from flood flows, water conservation, recycled water, desalination and water transfers, according to DWR.
The governor’s proposed Delta tunnels ran into a roomful of skeptics Monday – an influential group of San Joaquin Valley farmers who remain unconvinced the controversial project will deliver the water they need at a price they’re prepared to swallow.
The State Water Resources Control Board announced in September that it plans to return the San Joaquin River to 40 percent of its “unimpaired flow.” … The goal, according to the water board, is to rebalance water demand on the state’s second-largest river. … The board plans a similar process for the Sacramento River, the state’s largest river.
A settlement in a lawsuit that targeted dairy and beef cattle operations in the Point Reyes National Seashore now threatens the future of ranching in West Marin. … The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, also asserted that cattle were causing erosion, polluting waterways with manure and harming endangered salmon and other species, while blocking public access.
A century ago, agents from Los Angeles converged on the Owens Valley on a secret mission. They figured out who owned water rights in the lush valley and began quietly purchasing land, posing as ranchers and farmers.
Agricultural leaders and farmers pressed their case for a reliable water supply, immigration reform and their fair share of the Farm Bill during a roundtable discussion with Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday. Harris is the former attorney general who won election last November in the race to replace outgoing Democrat Barbara Boxer.
The meeting between [U.S. Sen. Kamala] Harris and nearly two dozen agriculture and water officials was meant to ease what is typically a fraught relationship between the state’s Democratic leaders — all of whose power bases are in metropolitan areas — and the mostly Republican Central Valley powers that traditionally look at them with skepticism.
A California farmer facing a $2.8 million fine for allegedly plowing seasonal wetlands on his 450-acre Tehama County land lashed out Friday against federal prosecutors and bureaucrats for what he called an abuse of government power.
California farmer John Duarte, facing a hefty fine over water-law violations for plowing a field, wants to call in a big gun in his high-profile court case in Sacramento: Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It’s expected to cost area agri-businesses about $1 million to provide bottled water to lower-income Salinas Valley residents whose water supply has been contaminated by nitrates in the first year of a pilot program.
Regional Climate Centers, a little-known network of weather data gathering and processing centers, face an existential threat in the form of a recommended 82 percent budget cut in [President Donald] Trump’s proposed budget. Centers manage weather information that helps fire managers battle wild land fires, helps farmers decide where and when to plant crops and helps engineers design dams and bridges that can stand up to extremes.
This year has brought the mighty river flows that environmental and fishing groups say are vital to salmon. A farmer or city water user might disagree: Yes, the fish need high water at times, but not at the 2017 volume. And we should be adding reservoir space to carry over the excess for dry years ahead.
Vickie Mulas, a partner in her family’s Sonoma Valley dairy and vineyard operations, is no friend of regulations. … But Mulas, a member of a prominent local ranching family, relishes her role in California’s newest round of rule-making that will — in an unprecedented departure from past practice — put limits on how much water people can pump out of the ground.
To no one’s surprise Tuesday, the Turlock Irrigation District board endorsed Tuolumne River fishery improvements that do not involve boosting reservoir releases. Directors voted 5-0 to support a proposal made by San Francisco in response to a state effort to sharply increase flows for salmon and other native fish on this and nearby rivers.
John Duarte spent five years fighting the Obama administration’s Justice Department over charges that he broke environmental laws by harming wetlands while planting a wheat crop on his Northern California farm. He lost his case, and faces a $2.8 million fine.
More than 11,000 foreign guest workers like [Alfredo] Betancourt were approved last year to harvest the lettuce, fruit and vegetables for California’s $47-billion agricultural industry — a fivefold increase from 2011, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Labor Department data. … If growers have their way, they will get even more under the visa program known as H-2A and face fewer barriers, delays and regulations.
A farmer faces trial in federal court this summer and a $2.8 million fine for failing to get a permit to plow his field and plant wheat in Tehama County. … Because the property has numerous swales and wetlands, [John] Duarte hired a consulting firm to map out areas on the property that were not to be plowed because they were part of the drainage for Coyote and Oat creeks and were considered “waters of the United States.”
During California’s epic five-year drought, most of the state’s irrigation districts didn’t comply with a 2007 law that requires them to account for how much water they’re delivering directly to farmers, a Bee investigation has found. State regulators are largely powerless to stop them, but they don’t seem too bothered by it.
Water is expensive – and securing enough money to ensure reliability and efficiency of the state’s water systems and ecosystems is a constant challenge.
In 2014, California voters approved Proposition 1, authorizing a $7.5 billion bond to fund water projects throughout the state. This included investments in water storage, watershed protection and restoration, groundwater sustainability and drinking water protection.
Land subsidence caused by groundwater pumping has been a problem for decades in the San Joaquin Valley, but an increased reliance on aquifers during the last decade has resulted in subsidence rates in excess of a foot per year in some parts of the region.
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Lourdes Cardenas, who has picked grapes in Fresno County for 14 years, wants some assurance she won’t be separated from her family or continue to “live in fear” of deportation as a worker in the country without legal permission.
On a mostly party-line 23-16 vote, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the bill to settle the irrigation dispute between the mammoth Westlands Water District and the federal government. The measure relieves Westlands of a big construction debt, and in turn shifts the burden for solving the toxic drainage problem from the government to the water district.
Organic growers in California and other farm states appear split over an industry promotion proposal that’s blossomed into a heated dispute. … With a Wednesday public comment deadline imminent, more than 11,000 public responses had flooded the Agriculture Department as of Friday.
The water spread into every corner of the fields, beckoning wading ibises and egrets as it bathed long rows of sprouting grapevines. Several inches had covered the vineyard ground for a couple of months. But rather than draining it, Don Cameron was pouring more on.
Full water deliveries have returned to the last of the West Side irrigation districts affected by federal water cutbacks in recent years. … The news came too late for some farmers, who have already planted based on the earlier projection of 65 percent for 2017.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is boosting the water allocation for farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to 100 percent for the first time since 2006. The announcement Tuesday comes only weeks after the bureau told disappointed growers that they would receive 65 percent of the contract supply from the Central Valley Project.
In a key ruling released Monday, a judge slammed the Oakdale Irrigation District for skirting state law in last year’s fallowing proposal. The district should have studied whether shipping river water elsewhere might harm local groundwater levels, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne said in a decision issued nearly 11 weeks after a one-day trial in January.
California farmers have a sympathetic president in the White House and have enjoyed one of the wettest winters on record. But those in a giant swath of the San Joaquin Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country, are due to get only two-thirds of their water allotment this year from the federal government.
[Arnulfo] Solorio is one of a growing number of agricultural businessmen who say they face an urgent shortage of workers. The flow of labor began drying up when President Obama tightened the border. Now President Trump is promising to deport more people, raid more companies and build a wall on the southern border.
Farmers employ tens of thousands of people in the San Joaquin Valley and run a $35 billion industry producing grapes, milk, oranges, almonds and dozens of other commodities sold in stores around the globe. Many of them supported Donald Trump for president, calculating that his promise to deliver more water to drought-starved valley farms would help them despite his hard-line stance on immigration.
Worried about having to relinquish too much reservoir water and saddle Bay Area customers with restrictions on their taps, San Francisco officials plan to unveil a counterproposal Friday that they say restores river habitat and helps fish while maintaining water for cities and farms. … The plan already has sparked an unusual alliance between San Francisco and the Central Valley agricultural communities along the Tuolumne.
Modesto and Turlock farmers are thankful that record storms have boosted to capacity Don Pedro Reservoir, which holds water needed for crops. But excessive rain and snowmelt also have washed huge amounts of debris into the Tuolumne River upstream from the reservoir.
To hear John Duarte tell it, farmers knew the cavalry was coming to their rescue on election night. … On Tuesday, Trump ordered his new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to scale back the agency’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act.
With a Republican in the White House and the GOP controlling Congress, Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., said Tuesday that he was hoping to build on last year’s legislation that was loved by farmers and loathed by environmentalists.
Federal officials announced Tuesday that the 20 reservoirs that make up the Central Valley Project are so swollen with winter runoff that many growers will get all the water they requested this year — a remarkable change from the past few years when countless orchards and fields received no federal water at all.
Last May, Donald Trump stood in an arena full of farmers from California’s desiccated Central Valley and said words many yearned to hear: “If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water.”
California agriculture is going to have to learn to live with the impacts of climate change and work toward reducing its contributions of greenhouse gas emissions, a Yolo County walnut grower said at the Jan. 26 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.
“I don’t believe we are going to be able to adapt our way out of climate change,” said Russ Lester, co-owner of Dixon Ridge Farms in Winters. “We need to mitigate for it. It won’t solve the problem but it can slow it down.”
While some farmers lament the release of thousands of acre-feet of water from Friant Dam, others are putting it to good use: recharging groundwater supplies. Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from Millerton Lake to make room for a deluge of storm runoff.
Federal inspections of cattle and hog feedlots, turkey houses, and other animal feeding operations dropped for a fourth consecutive year, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data. The number of fines and orders to change management practices for those same facilities fell for a fifth consecutive year.
A new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow the import of lemons from Argentina is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of California lemon growers. … California is the largest lemon-producing state in the U.S., with about 47,000 acres of bearing trees out of about 55,300 acres nationwide, according to the USDA.
New Melones Reservoir would hold virtually nothing in about one in seven years if the state’s river flow plan goes through, water managers said Friday. They spoke at a State Water Resources Control Board hearing that also drew support for boosting the lower Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to help fish.
San Joaquin County residents and public officials alike voiced opposition this week against a state plan to increase flows from the Stanislaus River as well as increase allowable salt in the southern San Joaquin Delta, stating the proposals could have significant negative impacts on the region’s agricultural viability.
Urging her fellow lawmakers to pass a bill that would send more of California’s water to the arid farm fields of the San Joaquin Valley, Sen. Dianne Feinstein gave an impassioned speech Friday about the threat facing family farmers.
California farmers and Southern California cities were aghast last winter when much of the heavy rainfall that fell in Northern California washed through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and out to sea.
Both California senators took to the floor Friday to take opposite sides in a debate over provisions of a national water resources bill that allows more water to be pumped south to Central Valley agriculture at the expense of the salmon industry.
The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the biggest federal reset of California water use in a generation, setting the stage for easier dam-building, more recycling and potentially happier Central Valley farmers.
The water policy measure overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday to build long-term water infrastructure across the Golden State is headed for a showdown with outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer, who plans to mount a filibuster in the Senate on Friday as one of her final acts in Congress.
Tuesday, I visited a couple of projects in the Sacramento Valley that are aimed at helping salmon on both ends of the life cycle. They are collaborations between farmers and environmentalists, two groups that are often at each other’s throats in the never-ending battle over who is entitled to California’s precious water supply.
A controversial California water bill that’s sparked years of fighting has been added to a fast-moving measure, boosting the chance the water measures will pass Congress but sharply dividing the state’s U.S. senators.
House Republican leaders and California’s senior senator announced Monday a new attempt to pass legislation that would increase water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness and Southern California.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, teamed up Monday to slip a legislative rider into a giant end-of-year water infrastructure bill that would override endangered species protections for native California fish for the purpose of sending water to San Joaquin Valley farmers.