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CIRS Blog about Rural California

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In less than two weeks, Californians will vote on a water bond (Proposition 1), which would allow the state to assume $7.5 billion of debt in order to fund major water projects throughout California. The 2014 water bond represents significant compromise by the state legislature. Assembly Bill 1471The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014—was overwhelmingly approved in August, passing by a vote of 77 to 2 in the State Assembly and unanimously in the Senate. The legislatively-referred Proposition 1 is almost a third less expensive than the two previous water bond acts which were removed from the ballot in 2010 and 2012. 

 

The 2014 water bond will not fund short-term projects related to the current drought; rather, it creates a funding mechanism for long-term, generally large-scale water projects that are deemed to be publicly beneficial in one or more ways.

 

 

WHAT IS A WATER BOND?

A bond is simply a form of debt: governments can sell them to private investors and pay them back with interest (assumed to be 5%). Water bonds have been the main vehicle to fund major water infrastructure in California for decades. The 2014 Water Bond reauthorizes $425 million in unissued bonds, and authorizes $7.12 billion in new general obligation bonds, all to fund water-related programs and projects throughout the state. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the 2014 water bond will require annual debt service payments of $491 million for 30 years for a total of $14.724 billion.

 

 

WHAT WILL THE WATER BOND FUND?

The seven categories of projects and programs, from most expensive to least expensive, are: 

  1. Statewide Water System Operational Improvement and Drought Preparedness [$2.7 billion, continuously appropriated]
  2. Protecting Rivers, Lakes, Streams, Coastal Waters, and Watersheds [$1.495 billion]
  3. Groundwater Sustainability [$900 million] 
  4. Regional Water Security, Climate and Drought Preparedness [$810 million]
  5. Water Recycling [$725 million]
  6. Clean, Safe, and Reliable Drinking Water [$520 million]
  7. Flood Management [$395 million]

 

There are several subcategories within each of these seven funding “buckets.” Although the language of the water bond is unspecific about connections to existing proposals like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) or individual dams and reservoirs, the proposed funding amounts reflect official cost estimates for existing proposals. Perhaps most notably, these proposals include raising the Shasta Dam and building two more: Temperance Flat on the Upper San Joaquin, and Sites Reservoir north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Colusa County. Approximately one third of the money authorized by Prop 1 will go toward increased water storage. The environmental organizations that have endorsed Prop 1 regularly point out that the water storage funds will not necessarily be used for new dams, as the most efficient and beneficial proposals (perhaps including increased groundwater storage rather than new dams) should prevail in the competitive funding process. 

 

The BDCP has long been tied to potential funding from voter-approved water bonds. Although Governor Brown insists that the water bond is “BDCP neutral” and points out that Prop 1 specifically prevents the funding of the highly controversial “twin tunnels.” the BDCP proposal relies on funding from the 2014 water bond, and assumes even more funding from a future water bond. A November 2013 BDCP document estimating costs and funding sources states that [t]he BDCP is expected to secure a large portion of the funds allocated to Delta sustainability, as well as smaller portions of funds allocated to conservation and watershed protection. […] For the purposes of the funding program and assuming the water bond passes, the BDCP is expected to receive the conservative estimate of [$1.514 billion]. […] BDCP assumes passage of a second water bond to fully fund the state portion of the Plan. The total BDCP funding assumed for the subsequent water bond is $2.25 billion. The timing of any subsequent bond is unknown […].

 

 

WHAT IF THE WATER BOND FAILS? 

Without new state funding, a wide range of water-related projects will be delayed, revised, and/or canceled. Federal funding, particularly for local water quality and infrastructure improvement in California, is already limited and is unlikely to increase in the near term given the current atmosphere in the U.S. Congress. The state could still sell previously approved bonds, but there is little doubt that less money will be available for major water projects during the coming years if Proposition 1 is voted down.

 

California’s specific programs and funds for drought-related assistance will continue regardless of the outcome of the water bond. Additionally, local governments and water districts may  continue to fund and implement water projects independently. 

 

 

WHO SUPPORTS AND OPPOSES THE WATER BOND?

The California Democratic Party, Republican Party, Governor Jerry Brown, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and U.S. Representative Mark Levine have all endorsed Prop 1. Various water authorities and organizations support the measure as well; including the Association of California Water Agencies, League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, California Chamber of Commerce, Western Growers, California Farm Bureau, Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union-Tribune, Palm Springs Desert Sun, and Modesto Bee have all published editorials voicing strong support for the 2014 water bond. Supporters of Proposition 1 emphasize that the long-term benefits of large water projects will outweigh the costs to taxpayers and any potential harm to ecosystems. Read more at http://www.yesonprops1and2.com

 

Opponents to Proposition 1 include Restore the Delta, The Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, San Francisco Baykeeper, Food and Water Watch, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, and a long list of other environmental and ecological organizations and wildlife conservation groups. These groups emphasize that dams are environmentally harmful and the current water bond is writhe with thinly-veiled connections to existing dam proposals and the BDCP. Read more at http://www.noonprop1.org.

 

recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Prop. 1 has the support of 58% of likely voters. The California Water Foundation launched a public education campaign on October 15 to increase access to information about Proposition 1. The Water Bond Education Project website can be accessed at www.waterforthelonghaul.com.  

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The drought dominated farm-related news in summer 2014. California's Lake Oroville was less than 40 percent of capacity and Nevada's Lake Mead was at its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s, less than 1,100 feet above sea level rather than the usual 1,200 feet. 

California's State Water Resources Control Board in July 2014 instituted mandatory statewide water restrictions for the first time, allowing local water agencies to fine those who waste water up to $500. The new regulations by the SWRCB, which regulates only urban water use, limit outdoor watering to two days a week, largely prohibit washing sidewalks and driveways, and ban washing cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose.

A University of California at Davis study estimated that 429,000 acres or five percent of California's eight million acres of irrigated land would be fallowed in 2014 due to lack of water, including 10,000 acres that would normally be planted to vegetable and melon crops. About 40 percent of California's irrigated crop land, some 3.2 million acres, are planted to trees and vines, "hardening" the demand for water in the sense that perennial crops must be watered each year.

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By Megan Beaman and Kevin Kish

 

Low-wage workers—regardless of immigration status—shoulder more than their fair share of workplace violations, including unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions, and discrimination and harassment. Immigrant low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable—working under constant fear that if they exercise basic workplace rights, they will suffer retaliation that could result in the separation of their families; loss of homes and property; or return to violence or extreme poverty in their home countries.

 

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This fear of retaliation is based in fact. We as advocates have seen it happen time and time again—and it overwhelmingly leads to workers staying silent, leaving employers without even a slap on the wrist when they break the law.

 

Scofflaw employers do not and will not stop violating the law if they are not held accountable for their violations to all workers. Any other type of piecemeal enforcement, or lack of enforcement, encourages employers to hire vulnerable undocumented workers, disregard labor laws as basic as the minimum wage, and then fire them when they complain – all to the economic disadvantage of employers who do follow the law.

Earlier this summer, the California Supreme Court in the Salas v. Sierra Chemical Company case agreed, deciding that companies that hire undocumented workers (knowingly or not) do not get a free pass to discriminate against them.

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By Robin Urevich

Nearly 300,000 children in California—more than in any other state— are homeless, or live in cars, garages or crammed into single rooms with their entire families. More than half of those children are younger than 10 years old.

Most of them are in Southern California, in the state’s five most populous counties: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. But rural Trinity County has the state’s highest percentage of homeless students, followed by Santa Barbara, Sierra, Lake and San Bernardino.

The data, recently compiled by kidsdata.org and the California Homeless Youth Project, show that the number of homeless kids in California rose between 2011 and 2013 at a time when funding to aid them was tight.

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Agriculture Census 

The Census of Agriculture, conducted in years ending in 2 and 7, reported that there were 2.1 million U.S. farms with farm sales of $395 billion in 2012, including $212 billion in crop sales (54 percent) and $182 billion in livestock sales (46 percent). In almost all previous COAs, livestock sales slightly exceeded crop sales, but a combination of high crop prices and a drought that encouraged some livestock operators to sell cattle to avoid high feed costs made crops the majority of farm sales in 2012.

Farm sales have been rising by about $100 billion between the five-year COAs; they were about $200 billion in 2002 and almost $300 billion in 2007. However, most farm sales are from a relative handful of large farms. The 81,600 U.S. farms that each had farm sales of $1 million or more in 2012 collectively had farm sales of $264 billion, two-thirds of total farm sales of $395 billion.

The COA reported 2.1 million U.S. farms in 2012, down from 2.2 million in 2007. Farmers are aging; their average age was 58 in 2012, up from 57 in 2007. There are twice as many farmers age 75 and above, 258,000, as under 35, 120,000. Of the 2.1 million farm operators in 2012, 1.1 million had a primary occupation other than farming.

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By Lily Dayton

In the foothills of the Pajaro Valley, dozens of nursery workers dressed in jeans and work boots file into a warehouse. It’s just past lunchtime on a weekday. Normally the workers would be heading back to the white-tented greenhouses to tend to the broccoli, chard and kale shoots that grow from nursery flats, but today they are attending the final presentation of Speedling Incorporated’s Safety Week, a workshop on sexual harassment and assault.

“Today we are going to talk about a topic that is taboo in many cultures,” Maria Barranco says in Spanish. Barranco is the prevention program manager of Monarch Services, a domestic and sexual violence prevention agency in Santa Cruz County.

Most of the 45 employees in attendance are men, ranging in age from just barely adult to grizzled middle age. But several women sit among the group. Everyone is engaged, listening intently to Barranco and four prevention specialists—all dressed in matching black shirts with a “Campos Seguros” (Spanish for “safe fields”) logo on the front. On their backs, the shirts read “Lives free from violence and abuse.”

When Barranco asks, “Does anyone know what sexual harassment is?” several workers raise their hands. One man says, “It’s when you touch someone or talk to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.”

This workshop is a field test of the format that Monarch’s Campos Seguros program is currently using to develop a nine-week series to educate agricultural workers about sexual violence prevention. The workshop series will pilot in the fall, and there will be separate programs for men, women and children.

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 — Seventeen California cities and counties urged Congress on Tuesday to complete drought legislation that’s currently hung up in closed-door negotiations.

The municipal resolutions passed in recent weeks by small towns like Dos Palos and counties like Kern and Kings were presented to the House Natural Resources Committee, as part of a public drumbeat that included a several-hour long hearing on easing environmental rules.

“It’s continuing to make the case that we have to move forward,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said of the hearing Tuesday, adding later that “people in California are wondering if we in Congress are capable of coming together.”

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Congress is returning to plenty of unfinished California business. Then, it will soon depart again, leaving most of the Golden State goals still unmet.

One California lawmaker hoped this 113th Congress would authorize grants for an Altamont Pass rail project. Some sought to add six new federal judges to serve busy Central Valley courts. Others wanted the San Joaquin Delta declared a “national heritage area.”

But with little time remaining before they resume full-time campaigning, lawmakers coming back Monday know most home-state bills are dying on the vine. Some attrition is typical: bills are always easier to write than to pass. Some failures, though, reflect a particularly toxic Congress.

“Unfortunately, with so many challenges facing our country, this Congress has been dismal,” Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., said Friday. “It has been one of the least productive Congresses in history. It is disappointing and frustrating.”

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California is offering free wireless devices that allow farmers to accept money from CalFresh recipients at farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs. The grant-funded program covers the $1000-value POS (point of sale) device for scanning CalFresh cards, and provides complimentary training for using the device. Farm marketing and promotion are built in as well: CalFresh customers have access to lists of farms and farmers markets that participate in the program, and the Foodies Project, and likely others, will promote individual farm participants online.

 

Farms should apply now to take advantage of this ultimate win-win program for the rest of the season. Food and food justice advocates, health workers, CSA members, and anyone with a favorite farm should encourage their local producers to sign up.

 

CalFresh is the federally-funded food assistance program for Californiathe state version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nations largest source of nutrition assistance. This major entitlement program is fully funded by the federal government, which is required to make funds available to all eligible applicants, i.e. individuals and families who qualify based on income level. Participation and costs for SNAP are higher than ever, with nearly 50 million program participants in 2013, and a total annual cost of nearly $80 billion. State and county governments cover a portion of the administrative costs to run the program.

 

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By Lily Dayton

Salinas resident Maricruz Ladino was all too familiar with harassing comments and sexual innuendos tossed around by her co-workers and supervisors while working for over a decade in the agricultural industry. But when she started a job at a Salinas lettuce packing plant in 2005, the harassment escalated. Her supervisor began making sexual advances, she says, insinuating that if she didn’t succumb to his sexual demands he would fire her. Then, one day the supervisor drove her to an isolated field—supposedly to inspect the crops. Instead, Ladino says, he raped her.

“I kept quiet for a long time,” she says in Spanish, explaining how she was afraid to speak out—afraid her supervisor might hurt her more, afraid no one would believe her, afraid of losing her job. As a single mother raising three young daughters on her own, she desperately needed the income to survive. But the abuse continued until she couldn’t take it anymore.

“Finally I said, ‘No más,’” she says, her gaze unfaltering. “I had to speak because, even though I might die, he was going to pay for what he was doing to me.”

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Climate change is threatening several of California’s most valuable crops. Recent studies suggest that warmer temperatures, and the associated reduced winter chilling period, could render California’s climate unsuitable for growing a variety of fruits and nuts. Insufficient winter ‘chill hours,’ defined as the cumulative number of hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, can disrupt pollination, delay flowering, lower yield, and reduce fruit quality. California orchards are predicted to experience less than 500 chill hours per winter by the end of the 21st century, which will impacts the yields of walnuts, pistachios, apples, pears, and stone fruits like cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums.

Courtesy of UC Davis

Courtesy of UC Davis

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A federal appeals court has delivered a big victory to a small water district in California’s parched San Joaquin Valley.

Judges concluded that the government owes additional damages for the Bureau of Reclamation’s failure to deliver enough water to the Stockton-based Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District. Potentially, the district could collect millions of dollars.

“We are thrilled that the court of appeals has seen the justice of Central’s claim,” attorney Roger J. Marzulla said Monday (Aug. 4), adding the decision “now clears the way for Central to recover at least a portion of the tremendous damage done . . . by Reclamation’s unexcused breach of contract.”

The ruling issued Friday (Aug. 1) by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a trial judge, who had rejected the water district’s claims for “expectancy” damages. In this case, these cover things like damages to farmers and the local groundwater aquifer resulting from the shortfalls in surface water deliveries.

The water district has previously asked for about $13.1 million in damages.

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California’s historic drought continues to intensify. The very real impacts across the entire state include idled farmland and associated farmworker job losses, farm income losses, and food price increases. The state’s dwindling reservoir supply has resulted in mandatory water cutbacks and unprecedented fines for some, but no region of California has conserved as much water as Governor Brown has requested (20 percent). Water use actually increased 1 percent in urban areas last May, compared to the May average from 2011-2013. Residents of several cities are still receiving violation notices for failing to keep front lawns green, even though they are saving water. In rural communities, the impacts of drought are far more obvious, particularly in communities reliant on groundwater as a primary source of drinking water.

  

 

San Joaquin Drought

Caption: The San Joaquin River running dry below Fraint Dam in April 2014, image from American Rivers, ©Julie Fair, flight by LightHawk

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The first six months of  2014 were the warmest ever recorded in California. According to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, the past six months were nearly 5º F hotter than the 20th century average and more than 1º F warmer than the previous record, which was set in 1934.

heat risk

Under normal circumstances, drought and increased temperatures are not necessarily connected, but scientists are now exploring the notion that heat can exacerbate dryness via increased evaporation and plant transpiration. Experts already acknowledge that dry conditions can exacerbate heat because when there’s little to no water to evaporate, the heat from the sun more effectively warms the air and the ground. The ridiculously resilient ridge that has prevented winter storms from dropping rain in California during recent years is caused by a system of high pressure thatalso contributes to warm weather.

Temperatures are on the rise throughout the state, easily exceeding triple-digits on a daily basis in warmer inland and southern regions. Even when air temperatures are relatively low, scientists have found that the earth and the oceans are warming beyond any previously recorded levels. Accordingly, California state officials have turned their attention to protecting outdoor workers from the dangerous and potentially lethal impacts of working in the heat during a summer that has proven to be one of extremes.

FARM WORK: A HIGH-HAZARD JOB

As the primary producer of several crops that require hand-harvesting and non-mechanical labor, California has more farm workers than any other state, and the state’s agriculture industry is more dependant on farmerworker labor than at any other point during the past century.

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Photo of a man hand weeding in Arvin, CA. Courtesy of  David Bacon

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The lack of water to grow crops dominated farm-related news in the San Joaquin Valley during the spring and summer of 2014. The federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project announced zero allocations for the water agencies in the San Joaquin Valley that buy water from them, although the SWP raised its allocation to five percent in April 2014. 

California has eight million acres of irrigated land, and 410,000 acres or five percent are expected to be fallowed in 2014 due to lack of water, including 10,000 acres that would normally be planted to vegetable and melon crops. About 40 percent of California's irrigated crop land, some 3.2 million acres, are planted to trees and vines.

A UCD study released in May 2014 estimated that San Joaquin Valley growers would receive a net 1.5 million fewer acre feet of surface water in 2014, which could lead to 6,400 fewer jobs in crop production, three percent of the average 200,000 farm worker jobs in the San Joaquin Valley and 1.5 percent of the state's average farm employment of 400,000. An additional 8,000 related nonfarm jobs could be lost. Some of the farm and nonfarm jobs expected to be lost are seasonal. 

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With California’s final cap-and-trade budget including funding for agricultural land conservation, it is increasingly important to understand the dynamics of farmland trends in the state. The more we know about land use trends, the more we can work to ensure that threatened farmland is adequately protected through the most appropriate tools and policies.

The Farmland Conservation Strategy Act, AB 1961, aimed to do just that. Co-sponsored by CalCAN, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and American Farmland Trust, the bill would have required counties with significant agricultural resources to inventory their farmland, define their goals and policies to conserve farmland and mitigate for its loss, and publish that information on the county website. However, heavy opposition from the California Building Industry Association led to AB 1961’s failure to get out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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By Hannah Guzik

When Irene Gomez emigrated from Mexico at 14, she immediately began working in the strawberry fields in the Oxnard Plain.

The work was exhausting, poorly paid and unreliable — but that was the least of her problems. She was also helping a friend escape from a violent relationship and was worried about living in the U.S. without legal papers.

She was overwhelmed, but felt she had nowhere to turn.

Gomez speaks Mixteco, an indigenous language that existed before the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. She’s among the estimated 165,000 indigenous farmworkers who have immigrated to California in the last two decades. About 60 percent of them do not speak English or Spanish.

Although many counties have programs that provide at least some medical care to this population, access to mental health services is extremely limited in most parts of the state.

This is despite the fact that indigenous farmworkers are believed to face higher amounts of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population, said Sandra Barrientos, a therapist with the Ventura County Health Care Agency.

 

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In the San Joaquin Valley, water is pumped out of aquifers at roughly twice the rate of replenishment through precipitation. Groundwater overdraft is a common phenomenon all over California, where demand for water outweighs supply. This is especially true during drought years, and of paramount concern right now because of California’s multiyear drought. Underground water levels have declined as much as 200 feet in the San Joaquin Valley during the past two years alone.

 

This year, California water experts estimate that over-pumping from groundwater aquifers will make up for over 1.5 trillion gallons of water that will not be delivered through the state’s extensive surface water projects. Compensating with groundwater is a risky and costly enterprise. UC Davis predicts that the increased groundwater use will cost nearly $500 million, with the greatest share of resource and economic impacts occurring in the San Joaquin Valley and the Tulare Lake Basin.

 

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Maximum land subsidence in the United States USGSThe signs on this pole in Mendota, CA show the approximate altitude of land surface in 1925, 1955, and 1977. The rate of subsidence is even faster now.

 

 

Like any natural resource, the surface of the earth is dynamic and ever-changing, and responsive to what happens around and underneath it. Land subsidence is the process by which land surfaces sink downward. Upper layers of the subsoil dry out and compact, reducing the pore sizes or eliminating the spaces between soil particles. This is a permanent, irreversible condition—watering the soil does not and will not cause the land to rebound in altitude. The land literally sinks under its own weight, filling voids where water has been extracted, thus decreasing the total storage capacity of the affected aquifer. As the water table drops, shallow wells can dry up, and the water levels in nearby lakes and streams also drop. Groundwater overdraft can cause seawater intrusion in coastal areas, further degrading the quality of remaining groundwater. The Mojave River Basin recently experienced desiccation cracks, sink holes, and fissures more than three feet wide and deep as a result of groundwater overdraft.

More than 80 percent of the identified subsidence in the United States (affecting over 17,000 sq. miles in 45 states) is a consequence of groundwater depletion by humans. In Merced County, for example, unsustainable groundwater pumping caused an alarming subsidence rate of nearly a foot per year during the past two years—much faster than previously documented.

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Controversy awaits the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) at its July meeting. Due to decreasing water supplies and an extreme drought, the State Board has ordered junior water rights holders in certain watersheds to reduce or cease water diversions. Earlier in June, some senior water rights holders received State Board letters warning of possible curtailments to their water uses as well. So far, these lucky few have maintained their ability to use basically unlimited amounts of water while cities and farmers face mandatory cutbacks, and while several rural communities risk running out of drinking water.  

 

The Associated Press recently found that just 24 of the 3,897 entities with active senior and riparian rights (more than half of which are corporations) reported using more than twice the volume of water that California’s massive state and federal water projects deliver to cities and farms in an average year. To re-state: twenty-four individual senior water rights holders use double the volume of water that is delivered through the state’s vast and extensive system of dams, canals, and aqueducts during an average year. This year, state water projects have reduced deliveries by 95 percent. Senior water rights holders have not been required to conserve water or reduce use by even a gallon.

 

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Marijuana is the top cash crop in California and nationwide. In 2005, the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture found that the average production value of marijuana—more than $30 billion—far exceeded the value of corn or soybeans. More recent numbers indicate that the value of marijuana exceeds the combined value of corn and soybeans, but these market estimates vary widely.

Wild west of weed post

 

Marijuana is an exceptionally water-loving crop. A pilot study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) found that concentrated marijuana cultivation has the potential to completely dewater streams and other sources of water (e.g. mountain seeps and springs). The most common method for securing water for growing cannabis is siting grow operations in locations with reliable year-round water sources to draw upon. It is no coincidence that the so-called “Emerald Triangle”—the most productive region for cannabis in the country—is located in the part of California that receives the most average rainfall. In regions with less water and/or during recent drought years when precipitation levels dropped, CDFW also documented the groundwater use for grow operations and importing water by truck.

 

These findings are significant, particularly during the third year of California’s historic drought. Despite a statewide law that allows for the legal cultivation, sale, and use of marijuana, illegal grow operations have proliferated especially in the past two decades. Every year, California authorities receive complaints about marijuana on public lands, often involving armed trespassers who divert water from local sources. Many of these operations are secretly set up in protected wilderness areas that provide limited habitat for vulnerable species, like salmonids and fishers. In addition to high-volume water use, chemical fertilizers and rodenticides have impacted local and downstream water resources as well as wildlife.   

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