CIRS Blog about Rural California
California, which had one of its wettest years ever in 2016-17, declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and ended it in April 2017. Over 30 inches of rain fell in parts of the Central Valley that normally receive less than 20 inches, and some Sierra mountain areas received over 60 feet of snow.
Instead of worrying about whether there would be enough water for summer irrigation, many water managers worried about having enough room in dams and reservoirs to prevent flooding. The water content of the Sierra snowpack, which normally peaks in April, was over 160 percent of average in April 2017, compared to five percent of average in April 2015. In 1983, the April Sierra snowpack had a water content that was over 200 percent of average.
California normally uses about 33 million acre feet of water, including 26 million acre feet for farming and nine million acre feet for consumers and industry. Among urban residents, half of water is used for lawns and landscaping.
In normal rain years, about 38 percent of the water used for agricultural irrigation is groundwater. During drought years, less surface water is conveyed via dams and canals, and groundwater is 60 percent of agricultural irrigation water. Land often subsides as water is pumped from underground, falling 50 feet or more in many areas of the San Joaquin Valley during the 2012-16 drought.
California's largest dams are Lake Shasta, operated by the federal government, and Lake Oroville, operated by the state government. With water rushing in, Lake Oroville's spillway was opened February 7, 2017, and a gash appeared that forced a brief evacuation of almost 200,000 residents living below the 770-foot high dam.
California has 1,400 dams and 13,000 miles of levees to keep water in rivers and to prevent the flooding of islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta. By one estimate, up to $50 billion is needed to repair federal and state dams and levies to ensure that they can withstand heavier winter rains.
The dam and levee system faces another threat: climate change. If global warming means that more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow during the winter months, dams that were built primarily to collect snow melt for summer irrigation could be forced to release rain water in winter to prevent floods.
In response to more water flowing into the ocean in 2016-17, California plans three new storage projects: Sites Reservoir to store 1.8 million acre feet, Temperance Flat to store 1.3 million acre feet, and raising the 602-foot high Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet to increase its capacity by 634,000 acre feet.
Most new water storage facilities are north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, raising the challenge of moving more water through or around the Delta while protecting fish. The state's plans to build $15.5 billion twin, 30-mile-long tunnels beneath the delta are moving very slowly.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced in March 2017 that Sacramento Valley and Friant customers can expect 100 percent of their water allocation in 2017, but Central Valley Project customers could expect at least 65 percent and perhaps 80 percent. Westlands Water District, the largest U.S. agricultural water district, called for 100 percent of CVP water deliveries.
The 350-square mile Salton Sea is California's largest lake. Created in the early 1900s when canals bringing water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley overflowed for two years, the Salton Sea reached its heyday in the 1950s, when it was the playground of the Hollywood elite. Since then, evaporation has increased salt levels and shrunk the Salton Sea, killing fish and allowing fine dust to circulate and threatening 400 species of migrating birds. A $9.6 billion revitalization plan has not been implemented.
This post was published in the most recent Rural Migration News from April 2017.
Rural Migration News summarizes the most important migration-related issues affecting agriculture and rural America. Topics are grouped by category: Rural America, Farm Workers, Immigration, Other and Resources.
There are two editions of Rural Migration News. The paper edition has about 10,000 words and the email version about 20,000 words.
Distribution is by email. If you wish to subscribe, send your email address to ruralmigrationnews-subscribe [at} primal.ucdavis.edu. Current and back issues may be accessed at http://migration.ucdavis.edu.
The paper edition is available by mail for $30 domestic and $50 foreign for one year and $55 and $95 for a two-year subscription. Make checks payable to Migration Dialogue and send to: Philip Martin, Department of Ag and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, California 95616 USA.
WASHINGTON —Organic growers in California and other farm states appear split over an industry promotion proposal that’s blossomed into a heated dispute.
Some growers want aseparate program that touts organic products in much the same way that other programs promote cotton, beef or eggs. Others want no part of generic advertising for organics funded by industry “check-off” fees.
With a Wednesday public comment deadline imminent, more than 11,000 public responses had flooded the Agriculture Department as of Friday. The volume and pace of the organic program commentaries led the “What’s Trending” section of the entire federal regulatory website, and they reflect wildly different perspectives.
On the one hand:
“The check-off model provides a tried and true vehicle for the organic sector to invest our own dollars in our collective continued growth at no cost to the taxpayer,” Steven Nichols, a certified organic egg producer in San Bernardino County, stated on April 6.
On the other:
“I have been an organic farmer in California for the past 10 years and the last thing I need is another layer of burdensome, time consuming and costly overhead to my already very busy life,” Fresno County farmer Eldon Thiesen wrote the Agriculture Department on March 23.
Agriculture has two major sectors, crops and livestock. Crops require the most hired workers, many of whom work seasonally, while livestock employs a higher share of year-round workers. Total crop labor expenditures were $23 billion in 2012, and livestock labor expenditures were $10 billion.
All data sources agree that California has about 30 percent of U.S. crop worker employment, followed by three states with 5 to 6 percent, Washington, Florida and Texas. Two more states have about 3 percent of crop worker employment, Michigan and Oregon, so that over half of crop worker employment is in six states.
The distribution of hours worked in livestock is different. Texas and California each have 10 percent of livestock hours worked, followed by Wisconsin with 6 percent and Iowa and New York with almost 4 percent each, so that one third of livestock hours worked are in the five leading states. Livestock hours are less concentrated than crop hours because there is no California among livestock states.
WASHINGTON—Fresno resident and folklorist Amy Kitchener will help tend the nation’s collective memories as a trustee of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
The co-founder and executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, with offices in Fresno, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, Kitchener has been tapped for a six-year term on the American Folklife Center’s board of trustees. The position will put her atop a world-class archive and expose her to a wide array of cultural movers and shakers.
“We’re the stewards, guiding the center,” Kitchener said in an interview March 7. “It’s an exciting prospect.”
Congress established the American Folklife Center in 1976 to “preserve and present American folklife” through research, documentation, archival preservation, live performance and more. The center, among other efforts, hosts the Veterans History Project, which stores the personal accounts of American war veterans, as well as the Civil Rights History Project.
WASHINGTON — The lead author in the House of Representatives of a big and controversial California water bill that passed last year is back for more.
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.
The bill scales back an ambitious San Joaquin River restoration program, speeds completion of California dam feasibility studies and locks in certain water deliveries to Sacramento Valley irrigation districts, among other things. Parts of the bill would not have been accepted by the Obama administration, but the Trump team is different.
WASHINGTON — The political terrain appears favorable for a mega-million-dollar irrigation drainage deal, with Congress still fully in Republican hands and California’s sprawling Westlands Water District with influential allies.
But there are complications. One is a legal cloud over a neighboring water district. The other comes with the state’s two Democratic senators, who remain uncommitted.
Legislation putting the drainage deal into effect could be introduced at any time.
“I think I have the support of leadership,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said in an interview.
But with that legislation will come a Capitol Hill fight.
WASHINGTON —California Republican Rep. David Valadao of Hanford is pushing for an immigration overhaul, placing himself in the middle of the very issue that’s ripping both parties apart.
Through public statements, legislation and now an earnestly worded plea to President Donald Trump, Valadao has positioned himself as one of the few congressional Republicans daring to support a comprehensive package that includes a pathway to legal status for immigrants who are already in this country illegally.
“For too long, extremes on either side of the aisle have discouraged constructive discussion regarding immigration,” Valadao said in the two-page letter sent to Trump on Tuesday, “but I believe with new executive leadership, now is the time to enact meaningful reform.”
California's farm sales fell from $54 billion in 2014 to $47 billion in 2015, largely because of the declining price of milk, whose value fell from $9.4 billion to $6.3 billion. The value of almonds fell by $0.5 billion, and the value of walnuts by almost $1 billion.
However, farmers are continue to plant more nuts. Bearing almond acreage has more than doubled from 418,000 acres in 1995 to 900,000 in 2016, and yields rose even faster from 370 million pounds to over two billion pounds. Walnut acreage rose from 177,000 in 1988 to 315,000 in 2016, and production more than doubled to 670,000 tons. California has 310,000 acres of pistachios expected to generate 555 million pounds in 2016.
Most nut farmers generate profits of $1,000 to $2,000 an acre, with pistachios the most profitable nut crop.
More acres of nuts are expected to come into production, including 220,000 acres of almonds, 70,000 acres of pistachios, and 65,000 acres of walnuts. The cost of establishing an acre of walnuts is estimated to be $3,800, an acre of almonds $2,300, and an acre of pistachios $1,900. Much of the new nut acreage is being developed by pension and hedge funds seeking current returns and capital gains as land prices rise.
California enacted a law in 2016 (SB 3) raising the minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour by 2022 and requiring farmers to pay 8/40 overtime (AB 1066), that is, 1.5 times normal wages after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week by 2022 (employers with 25 or fewer employees have extra time to comply). The state's minimum wage went to $10.50 an hour on January 1, 2017.
Western Growers surveyed its members in November 2016, and 150 growers reported that they plan to increase mechanization (77 percent) and reduce production of labor-intensive crops in California (33 percent), including 60 growers who hired fewer than 100 workers at peak.
Responding growers reported that their employees worked an average 9.6 hours a day and 56 hours a week at $12.40 an hour, suggesting 5.5 day workweeks. Instead of paying overtime wages, most farms said they will reduce hours to 8/40, so that workers would be employed 16 fewer hours a week. A third of respondents said they would reduce benefits provided to farmworkers because of higher minimum wages and 8/40 overtime by having employees contribute more for heath insurance or reduce employer 401K and retirement contributions.
In his budget released on January 10th, Governor Jerry Brown proposed on-going investments in climate smart agriculture programs, including the new Healthy Soils Program. The budget proposes to maintain current funding levels. However, there’s a catch. The funding will only become available if the legislature votes by two-thirds to extend the cap-and-trade program beyond the year 2020 when the program is set to expire. Why the catch?
Washington — Northern California and Oregon irrigation districts have won a key round in a long-running legal battle as they seek compensation for their loss of water in the Klamath River Basin.
In a 53-page opinion, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Marilyn Blank Horn concluded the federal government’s 2001 diversion of Klamath River Basin water amounted to a “physical taking” of the irrigation districts’ property. Horn’s ruling Dec. 21 rejected the government’s argument that the diversion instead amounted to a “regulatory taking.”
The technical-sounding difference could shape the final dollar-and-cents’ outcome. As attorney Josh Patashnik put it in a Santa Clara Law Review article, a judge’s determination of a physical rather than regulatory taking “often plays a central role in determining whether property owners are paid compensation.”
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday quietly signed and bequeathed to President-elect Donald Trump a massive infrastructure bill designed to control floods, fund dams and deliver more water to farmers in California's Central Valley.
While attempting to mollify critics’ concerns over potential harm to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Obama signed the $12 billion bill in a distinctly low-key act. The still-controversial California provisions were wrapped inside a package stuffed with politically popular projects, ranging from Sacramento-area levees to clean-water aid for beleaguered Flint, Michigan.
“It authorizes vital water projects across the country to restore watersheds, improve waterways and flood control, and improve drinking water infrastructure,” Obama stated, adding that “help for Flint is a priority for this administration.”
Dubbed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, the bill passed both House and Senate by veto-proof margins following years of maneuvering and debate. Obama’s signature was never really in doubt, though administration officials had previously resisted some of the specific California provisions.
Fresno was the leading U.S. farm county until 2013, when the drought reduced irrigation water available to large farmers on the western side of the county. Fresno's farm sales for 2015 were $6.6 billion, down from $7 billion in 2014, and led by $1.2 billion worth of almonds from 186,000 acres and followed by $900 million for grapes from 195,000 acres. Fruit and nut crops worth $3.3 billion were half the value of Fresno farm sales.
Tulare county's farm sales dropped from $8.1 billion in 2014 to $6.9 billion in 2015, with lower milk prices for the county's 285 dairies explaining the drop.
There were many commodity stories in summer 2016. California's 900,000 acres of almonds are expected to produce a record two billion pound crop in 2016. Grower prices are expected to be about $2.50 a pound.
Table grape acreage is expanding to over 83,000 bearing acres. Workers in the San Joaquin Valley were being paid $10 to $10.50 an hour in summer 2016, plus $0.30 to $0.50 per 22-pound box, with a trio of two pickers and one packer sharing the piece rate. A trio picking 12 boxes an hour would share $3.60 to $6, or earn $11 to $13 an hour or $100 a day. Working six-day weeks for 18 weeks or 108 days, grape pickers could earn $10,800 or more a season.
Table olives have declined to 15,000 acres and 63,000 tons in 2016, in part because of the $500-a-ton cost of getting olives picked by hand. Many growers are shifting to nuts, which can be harvested mechanically.