[env-trinity] On the Public Record

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Thu Apr 9 09:33:29 PDT 2015


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TS
http://onthepublicrecord.org
  
Hard to defend.
I have marked the almond acreage at the beginning and end of the 2006-2009 drought (700,000 acres at the beginning, 810,000 acres at the end). At the beginning of our current drought, almond acreage was 870,000 acres. In 2013, after two years of drought, it was up to 940,000 acres. It looks like the 2014 California Almond Acreage Report comes out at the end of April (here’s 2013). I will be excited to see a new total acreage. (Source)
Let’s make this all explicit. Since this drought began, almonds have expanded by 70,000 acres. That’s 280,000 acft/year of new water demand for a snack that will be exported. That water will come from groundwater or from other farmers. At the same time, the California EPA is literally telling urban users to take five minute cold showers. If there is a lot of new acreage in 2014 and 2015, it is going to be difficult for the Brown administration to stay friends with them.A couple notes:
Not-having this new almond acreage would not mean wet water for cities. But it would mean less overdraft of San Joaquin Valley groundwater.I should be explicit that I don’t love applying California’s water resources to alfalfa/silage for meat and dairy, nor wine grapes either. But I sense that most others are much more culturally attached to cheap meat and dairy, and also to wine, than they are to almonds. In my own life, I could readily accept all three (almonds, meat/dairy, wine) becoming rarer and more expensive.2 CommentsFiled under UncategorizedAPRIL 7, 2015 · : 
Why an almond ban?
Secretary of Agriculture Ross was fast with the defense of almonds, which I would hope would be the case since it has been a hot topic.  But it feels so right, so good to criticize almonds (and I have for years).  Why a single-crop ban?1.  It is readily enforceable.  Visual inspection would be sufficient, the delineation is clear (almonds, no, everything else, yes).  The pain is contained to a very small segment of the population, some of whom are buffered by their wealth.2.  It would free up genuine wet water.  One million acres of almonds use four million acre-feet of water and even in California, four million acre-feet of water is real water.  That’s about the amount of annual overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley during this drought.3.  Almonds seem frivolous.  I like them myself, but they are just a snack.4.  The only justification for almonds is that they draw high prices, but that means that a public resource that everyone wants right now is being transformed to private profits for a few.  The conserving public isn’t getting to enjoy the use of that money in exchange for their sacrifice of water.5.  Almonds, especially the half quarter million acres of almonds planted since the start of the 2006 drought, feel like an arrogant fuck you to the rest of us.  The planters knew of drought and decided they’d go ahead, plant trees that must get water and break the aquifers if they had to.   Those are everyone’s aquifers, but again, not everyone’s enjoyment of almond profits.An almond ban doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.  It could be ‘no new trees in declining groundwater basins’.  It could be ‘we’ll protect our historic almond industry in the Sac Valley but not expansion since 2006, since they must have known about drought’.  But it keeps getting mentioned because it makes a lot of intuitive sense.   If the State Board does nothing on tree nuts, Secretary Ross will have to keep giving her practiced answers.15 CommentsFiled under UncategorizedAPRIL 7, 2015 · : 
My thoughts on Governor Brown’s reasons for not including agriculture in mandatory water restrictions.
Governor Brown lists three reasons in the ABC interview below.   
   - The lack of delivery from the water projects and water rights curtailments of junior appropriators is already sufficient cutback.
   - It would end Californian food production and displace hundreds of thousands of people.
   - Our historical water rights system gives (some) farmers precedent.
1.  This argument doesn’t impress me much, because we know that farmers are still getting water. They had a cheap surface water cutback, but replaced that supply with groundwater.  About 500,000 acres out of 9,500,000 acres were fallowed.  The remaining 9,000,000 acres used water to keep permanent crops alive or finished other crops.  Growers paid more money for this water, or they increased their overdraft.  Their actual cutback was 500,000acres/9,500,000acres = 5.2%.  I’d be happy to grant that growers deficit irrigated, or watered the very minimum to keep crops alive, so that percent might be higher, even 8% or 9%.  That’s about in line with urban water conservation last year.  The water right curtailments and lack of project water are not imposing a burden on agriculture whole disproportionate to the burden urban users shouldered last year.  We will know that agriculture has matched the 25% cuts being imposed on urban users because 2.4 million irrigated acres will be fallowed.2a.  Brown said “Of course we could shut it off,” said Brown. “If you don’t want to produce any food and import it from some other place.”  I will never understand why agriculture is discussed as a toggle, either on or off.  If we cut back some ag water, all the other growers will refuse to grow food in solidarity?  You could still have A LOT OF AGRICULTURE, even if you cut back A LOT.  That’s because there is a WHOLE LOT now.  Ag could cut back the 2.4 million irrigated acres just with tree nuts and alfalfa.  California could still supply literally every other thing it grows now, every single leaf of spinach.2b.  Brown mentioned displacing hundreds of thousands of growers (because if one water district* gets cut off, every other grower in the state leaves as well.  The growers, united, will never be divided.).   I note that growers have been drawing down groundwater so that personal and municipal wells are going dry.  This fastidiousness about driving people from their homes is not reciprocated.  But look, if it is going to be very hard on farmworkers, we could help them by … giving them fat cash.  We can come up with money more readily than we can create water.3. Our historical water rights system.  My guess is that until they (Gov Brown and the State Board) are absolutely forced to it, they will not take this on.  Partly out of respect for history and law, partly because where would you start, partly because the lawsuits would start. But Gov. Brown knows full well they are an unfair, convoluted mess.  Two more years of drought and emergency powers will get turned on the water rights system too**.*I propose they start with Dudley Ridge Water District, which has not one resident and is wholly owned by a few  corporations.**Here’s what you do, State Board. Spend the two years getting ready to put the next system in place. Don’t even glance at the existing system. Grant every person a headright of 30gppd that travels with them.  Cities can administer the aggregate, based on population.  Figure out what instream flows should be.  Decide which five million acres should be farmed and grant those lands 3.5 acft/acre.  In years with more water than that total, users can buy more directly from the State.4 CommentsFiled under UncategorizedAPRIL 7, 2015 · : 
What Governor Brown has said about not requiring agricultural water restrictions.
There are almost too many editorials and posts to link to, decrying agriculture’s exemption from the mandatory water use restrictions that came out April 1st.  I want to think about why Governor Brown is doing this, but I’d like us to work from the same texts.  So far as I have seen, here are his own words about why agriculture has been exempted.From ABC news:
Brown said farmers have already been denied irrigation water from federal surface supplies, and they’ve had to leave hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.“Of course we could shut if off,” said Brown. “If you don’t want to produce any food and import it from some other place, theoretically you could do that. But that would displace hundreds of thousands of people and I don’t think it’s needed.”Brown pointed out, there are farmers with “senior” water rights.  “Some people have a right to more water than others,” said Brown. “That’s historic, that’s built into the legal framework of California. And yes, if things continue at this level that’s probably going to be examined.”
A nicely done piece in the Western Farm Press:
To the premise that agriculture is getting a “free ride” in the Governor’s order, Cowin said, “Ag water use has been significantly affected during this drought… The state board (Marcus’ board) has implemented curtailments on some water rights holders throughout the Central Valley and elsewhere, so Ag water use is definitely being affected here.”To a similar question, Marcus responded: “They (farmers) are already cut back under much harsher circumstances through the seniority (water rights) system.”To yet another question, Cowin openly disagreed with a reporter’s question and premise, saying: “We are asking Ag water users to conserve water. In fact, the enforcement in this case includes curtailing water available to them.”CDFA Secretary Ross likewise defended the thrifty practices farmers have employed when irrigating crops.Ross defended almond growers, who in recent months have been on the receiving end of some rather brutal attacks for irrigation water use.Without skipping a beat, Ross pointed out that almonds are grown in California:
   
   -    
 Because markets are available;

   -    
 Because demand continues to increase;

   -    
 Because of the availability and price of land and water; and

   -    
 Because of the lack of labor needed to produce tree nuts in a marketplace that is moving towards more automation.

I am going to assume his executives are representing Governor Brown’s administration appropriately, and that these reflect Governor Brown’s thinking as well.  So, let’s go over these reasons.Leave a commentFiled under UncategorizedMARCH 27, 2015 · : 
How will 3 million acres of irrigated land go out of production?
Between groundwater overdraft, urban growth and climate change decreasing useful precip, I predict that 3 million acres of irrigated agriculture in California will go out of production in the next few decades. What I can’t predict is how they will go out of production. Here are some ways it could happen:   
   - The State could offer to buy agricultural land at five times market rate, from anyone who wants to sell. Or the State could buy out entire water districts, so that it owns contiguous land.
   - The State could do nothing, let wells fail and let growers eat their losses individually, wherever they are. Counties would pay for the costs of scattered abandoned lands.
   - Water districts could plan for continued shortages, identifying the lands that will not get water, allowing the land along entire laterals to go dry. The remaining farmers could pay compensation to the farmers who will not receive water.
   - The State could identify 6 million acres of prime ag land that it wants to support. It could offer that acreage the assurance of water during droughts or monetary support in dry years in exchange for growing fruits and veggies. It could forbid groundwater pumping for ag use outside the 6 million acres.
   - The State could hasten the failure of the 3 million acres by forbidding groundwater overdraft, billing farmers for the costs of subsidence, and banning almond orchards.
   - The State could offer to buy out lands during generational change.
There are lots of ways this could happen.  Only some of them have horrible outcomes for everyone.  Some of them have costs in money and some of them have costs in human suffering.  Some of them concentrate wealth among the already wealthy and some of them support middle class farming towns.  When I am pessimistic, I am not pessimistic that the land will go out of production.  That is inevitable. I am pessimistic that refusing to face that fact means that the collapse will be catastrophic, disorderly and borne by individuals, instead of planned, orderly and borne by all of us.  I am pessimistic that the taboo of describing a poorer future means that we won’t do the work to create the least bad outcome.4 CommentsFiled under UncategorizedMARCH 27, 2015 · : 
No really. What would it mean to go from 9.5M irrigated acres to 6M irrigated acres in California?
What does it mean if one-third of irrigated acres in California go out of production? Well, depends on your perspective. First, it does not mean the end of agriculture in California, because two-thirds of irrigated agriculture would persist. That’s 6 million acres of irrigated agriculture, which is rather a lot.Does it mean that your fruits and veggies will get more expensive? Does it mean that non-Californians will never have an almond again? Should you be hoarding wine? I don’t know. That depends on how the transition happens. The only thing that looks inevitable to me is that meat and dairy will become much more expensive. Relatively cheap feed, like alfalfa and silage, is the underpinning for cheap meat and dairy. I don’t see how those can remain cheap, nor how meat&dairy can withstand the way resource consumption intensifies with each step up the food chain.Will the agricultural economy collapse? It doesn’t have to. Some two-thirds of it will remain, probably where the water resources were richest in the first place. The Sacramento Valley, the coastal valleys, Yolo, the northeast side of the San Joaquin Valley will be able to keep farming. Places that are poor now will become poorer until they are abandoned or find new industries. Would retiring lands really suck for the people who are now farming them? It could. Again, it depends on how it happens. But many of the problems caused by farms going out of production are problems of poverty. Those can be addressed with things that may be more available than water, like re-training for other careers or monetary support or funding for re-location.What about the empty barren land, with poisonous salt dirt-devils swirling everywhere? That’s the Salton Sea, you guys. In the San Joaquin Valley, it would return to scrub. Not every inch of land has to be farmed.4 CommentsFiled under UncategorizedMARCH 27, 2015 · : 
Going from 9.5ish million irrigated acres to 6ish million irrigated acres. WILL WE ALL DIE?
Yes. Your best hope is that the end comes quickly, probably in a flood or heat wave or maybe from invasive insects and West Nile.1 CommentFiled under UncategorizedMARCH 27, 2015 · : 
Why I think 3 million acres of irrigated land will go out of production by, say, 2040.
It is my contention that about three million irrigated acres in California will go out of production in the next few decades. My estimate is the highest I have seen. I break it down as follows: annual overdraft in the SJV is between 4.5-5MAF. When that stops, either because groundwater management agencies bring the basins into balance or because groundwater will drop too low to economically pump, about 1.5M acres will not have irrigation water available to them.I believe the droughts we are seeing now will be our future normal climate and we will receive very little useable precip. I believe urban users will use political power to claim more of what we do get and to protect adorable fishies. That gets me another million acres.I believe the Delta will succumb to sea level rise, storm tides and floods on the Sacramento River. That’s another 300,000 acres. I add these and round up, and arrive at 3 million irrigated acres retired, down from our current 9.5ish million irrigated acres. Here is Dr. Burt, guessing that 1 to 1.5 million irrigated acres will go out of production. The PPIC/U.C. Davis crew must have a prediction, but I couldn’t find it handily. I’ll put it in this post if someone points me to it.4 CommentsFiled under UncategorizedMARCH 20, 2015 · : 
Yes, very important.
The Fresno Bee tells us:
In a sign of this dry time, Sacramento Valley rice growers offered to fallow some of their fields and sell a more valuable harvest: Feather River water.Farmers in our parched western San Joaquin Valley bid for the water as they fight to keep almond and pistachio trees alive.They lost to a consortium led by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that included the Kern County Water Agency, Kings County, and water districts on the Central Coast and in the Santa Clara and Napa valleys.

Sacramento River Valley rice grower Bryce Lundberg, an executive of Lundberg Family Farms, sits on the Western Canal Water District Board. which is among the nine agencies that intend to sell water to the consortium.This was his assessment: “When a group representing 18 million people come to call, it is important to listen to them. Being able to spread (water) to the most critical needs is good policy. A very targeted or directed use doesn’t make as much sense.”
I recently saw myself described as “a wonderful blogger who has just a few blind spots about political constraints.”  (I was tremendously flattered.)  It is true.  I am not concerned about political constraints, for the same reason Mr. Lundberg knows that the rice growers must sell to L.A..  I do not believe any political constraints can stand up to the self-interest of the urban water users in California.  A tipping point will come and when it does, 38 million of the 39 million people who live here will realize that words on paper are the only thing standing between them and the water they want.  They have the power to re-write those words, by initiative or through the legislature.It could be an initiative for an overhaul of the water rights system.  The legislature could revise Article 10 of the California Constitution, or point to another body to propose the revision (as they did with the Delta Stewardship Commission for the co-equal goals and the California Water Commission to define the public benefit parts of water storage that should be paid for by all of us).  But if you ask me which I believe in more: that urban users will adopt inconvenient behaviors to conserve water or that urban users will vote to revise water rights in their favor, I would bet on the latter without hesitation.  It is just a matter of time.Continue reading →6 CommentsFiled under UncategorizedMARCH 4, 2015 · : 
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