Costly luxury crops

Submitted: Jul 20, 2014
Badlands Journal editorial board

 The large crop results in part from a rise in almond acreage -- about 860,000 acres this year, compared with 840,000 last year and 570,000 a decade ago. This year's average yield per acre is projected at 2,440 pounds, second only to the 2,540 in 2011. The number of trees per acre also has risen. -- John Holland, Fresno Bee, July 11, 2014.

We believe this figure is much too low, just based on what we see around us. Thousands of acres of seasonal pasture are being converted to almonds with a lesser amount to grapes, and hudnreds of not thousands of acres of stone fruit are still being converted to almonds, with some grapes. Considering that the local land-use authorities in California, the counties, regard conversion of pasture or stone-fruit orchards to almonds an "ag-to-ag" conversion requiring no land-use-authority review, how could the USDA accurately count the number of newly planted acres?

Nevertheless, this gross figure, probably closer to a million than 860,000 acres, added to 600.000-650,000 acres of grapes - roughly 1.6 acres total -- all requiring about three acre feet of water per season, make up the main cause for country wells drying up and San Joaquin Valley land sinking as aquifers are over-pumped,

Also, scientists are beginning to think that  over-pumping combined with the opposite operation of injecting uncalculated thousands of acre feet of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing into deep aquifers may be the cause of increased earthquake activity in Southern California near the San Andreas Fault.--blj








Fresno Bee

USDA predicts record California almond crop


The Modesto BeeJuly 1, 2014

California almond growers will harvest a record 2.1 billion pounds this year, a federal agency projected Monday, further evidence that water is finding its way to this profitable crop.

The estimate from the National Agricultural Statistics Service is up 5% from last year's crop and 8% from the initial 2014 forecast on May 1. Should the figure hold up as the harvest plays out, it would top the record of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011.

And the nuts will have no trouble finding buyers around the world, said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers. The Sacramento-based cooperative, which has processing plants in Salida and Turlock, has helped promote almonds as a healthy food.

"I believe we can handle it very easily," Baker said. "We're seeing about a 5 1/2% increase in overall consumption."

California supplies about 80% of the world's almonds.

The state's severe drought has prompted some growers to rip out orchards or curtail production this year, but Monday's report suggests that the industry overall is holding strong.

Growers have replaced some of the reduced river water supplies with increased well pumping, raising concern in some places about overdraft. They also might fallow annual crops to get more water to the trees, purchase water from other growers, and conserve the supplies with soil-moisture monitoring and other techniques.

Almond prices have been strong for growers, about $3 per pound.

The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced the figure at the Modesto headquarters of the Almond Board of California. It was based on counts and measurements in a sampling of orchards up and down the Central Valley.

The initial estimate, from a telephone survey of growers in April, was for 1.95 billion pounds.

The large crop results in part from a rise in almond acreage -- about 860,000 acres this year, compared with 840,000 last year and 570,000 a decade ago. This year's average yield per acre is projected at 2,440 pounds, second only to the 2,540 in 2011. The number of trees per acre also has risen.

Monday's report said the winter was warmer than usual for the trees, which prefer chilly weather before the bloom, and rain was scarce for most of winter and spring. Pests and diseases are less of a problem than last year, the agency said.

Baker said hot weather such as this week's could stress the orchards and brings a lower-than-projected crop.

Steady almond supplies would help the industry meet the growing demand, most of it from food companies that use the nuts in cereal, candy, baked goods and other items.




Los Angeles Times

How much water does California have left?


Neither sewage recycling nor desalination nor some miracle technology will save us from drought

It is time for mandatory water restrictions, with enforcement and fines for violations

Southern California water managers are doing such a great job that you would hardly know we are in the midst of the worst drought since record-keeping began in the late 1800s.

Our lush, well-watered landscapes look as healthy and inviting as ever. Our fountains continue to shoot water in great arcs. Our freshly washed cars remain shiny and clean. On the surface, that's amazing. Kudos to our regional and local water districts for an incredible job in "drought-proofing" Southern California.

We have only enough water in storage to get through the next 12 to 18 months, and that's it.-  

However, excellence in water management has a real downside: a false sense of security. It is exceedingly difficult to convey the urgency of the situation when most everything around us is green.

The harsh reality is that everything here was fine. We used to have a lot of water in California, but now we don't. Without a few successive winters of above-average precipitation, we have only enough water in storage to get through the next 12 to 18 months, and that's it. Beyond that, many of our state and local water managers have thrown up their hands because they just don't know where our water will come from.

That is because drought-proofing is a misnomer. There is no proof against drought when there is no snowmelt to feed the rivers that normally refill our reservoirs, or when groundwater — our buffer against dwindling surface water supplies — continues to disappear with overpumping.

As hopes for a boost to next winter's rains fade with recent forecasts for a weaker El Niño event than first reported, 2014 is on track to become California's warmest year, and among its driest, on record.

It is time for Southern Californians to wake up and smell the dusty, dry air that has turned the rest of the Golden State brown. We are in big trouble too; we just can't see it through the overwatered foliage.

There are three important steps that our region can take to have an immediate effect on sustaining our water supply beyond just 12 to 18 months.


The first is awareness of our water supply situation. Our water has three main sources: snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, local groundwater and imported water from the Colorado River basin.

Unfortunately, all three of these sources are drying up. The amount of available freshwater from each has declined significantly during the drought. Even worse, best available forecasts indicate that the declines will continue for decades.

Second, it is time, right now, for mandatory water restrictions, with enforcement and fines for violations. If we must be forced to immediately cut back on water use, then so be it.

Voluntary measures such as Gov. Jerry Brown's emergency request to reduce water use by 20% are clearly not working. Coastal communities in Southern California managed to reduce water use by only 5% between January and May. Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego all recorded increases of between 1% to 4%.

Third, we must press for better management of the state's groundwater supply. As the major source of irrigation water in California, and the critical reserve for all during drought, groundwater accounts for roughly 65% of the statewide water supply. Consequently, most of our aquifers are being rapidly depleted, with little regard for meeting future needs. These include the southern half of the vast Central Valley aquifer system, aquifers in Paso Robles, the Coachella Valley, the Imperial Valley and more.

The governor is intent on sustaining groundwater reserves for generations to come. A draft document proposing new legislation that will finally bring groundwater resources under the state water management umbrella is on the governor's website. It includes provisions to implement monitoring and management plans at the local level. Passage of some form of this legislation — and soon — is absolutely essential to ensure a sustainable water future for California.

This is a real emergency that requires a real emergency response. If Southern California does not step up and conserve its water, and if the drought continues on its epic course, there is nothing more that our water managers can do for us. Water availability in Southern California would be drastically reduced. With those reductions, we should expect skyrocketing water, food and energy prices, as well as the demise of agriculture.

We should not expect to be saved by sewage recycling, or desalination, or some miracle technology. As fundamental as they are to managing the region's water supply, the scope of this drought and our demand for water far outstrip what current capabilities can provide.

Imagine a disaster movie in which 22 million people are told that they have only 12 to 18 months of water left. Unless Southern Californians pull together, we will be making that movie.


Business Insider




California's Drought Is 'The Greatest Water Loss Ever Seen,' And The Effects Will Be Severe


California's current drought will cost the state $2.2 billion and 17,000 jobs, researchers announced at a press conference July 15 in Washington, D.C. The findings are from a new report from the UC Davis Center for Watershed Science.

California is one of the U.S.'s biggest food producers — responsible for almost half the country's produce and nuts and 25% of our milk and cream. Eighty percent of the world's almonds come from the state, and they take an extraordinary amount of water to produce — 1.1 gallons per almond

But this food-rich state is in its third year of drought. In May, 100% of the state was in drought and the food-producing Central Valley was in an "exceptional drought."


U.S. Drought Monitor

Because of this drought, the farmers are getting only one-third of the usual amount of surface water. To keep their crops alive, farmers are switching from using water from rivers and reservoirs to using underground water sources. The problem? This groundwater won't last forever, especially as these droughts continue.

How Bad Is It?

While the drought itself is the third-worst ever seen, it's responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in the area, likely because farmers are using more water than ever before. The above-ground water available for farms decreased by one-third because of decreased rain, missing snow, and snow caps melting in the mountains.

In total, California will lose including about 3% of the total agriculture value of the state. That includes 17,000 jobs from, according to Jay Lund of UC Davis, "the sector of the population with the least ability to roll with the punches," he said. "You will get your fruits, nuts, vegetables, and wine, but there are pockets of deprivation in the Central Valley who are out of water and out of jobs."

Dry fields and bare trees at Panoche Road, looking west, on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, near San Joaquin, California. Drought has hit the Central Valley hard.

The Full Effects

The latest report details the future effects of this lasting drought on our food security are intense. Here are the findings, from the UC Davis press release:

·         Direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion (revenue losses of $1 billion and $0.5 billion in additional pumping costs). This net revenue loss is about 3% of the state's total agricultural value.

·         The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion.

·         The loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture represents 3.8% of farm unemployment.

·         428,000 acres, or 5%, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast, and Southern California because of the drought.

·         The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3%, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 mllion in additional well-pumping costs.

·         Agriculture on the Central Coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year's drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.

·         Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.

·         The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions.

·         Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes, and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.


View of Folsom Lake and Mormon Island during a drought from Beal's Point in Granite Bay, California, in February 2014.

What Can Be Done?

California's farmers have made their way through this drought without huge devastation because of the groundwater they're relying on. There's plenty now to make up for the drought, but there won't always be an excess. According to UC Davis:

If the drought continues for two more years, groundwater reserves will continue to be used to replace surface water losses, the study said. Pumping ability will slowly decrease, while costs and losses will slowly increase due to groundwater depletion.

This depletion is a "slow-moving train wreck," according to Richard Howitt of UC Davis. Local action needs to be taken to ensure these groundwater reserves are preserved for future droughts.

The researchers urged a greater investment in preserving groundwater stocks — making sure they allowed to replenish during wet seasons (and making sure they get used responsibly when they are needed) and increasing groundwater storage through reservoirs.


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