Ag Today, December 16, 2021

Amid drought, California advances big new reservoir project [The Associated Press]

Amid a severe drought, California regulators on Wednesday advanced what could be the state’s first major new water storage project in years despite warnings it would hasten the extinction of an endangered salmon species while disrupting the cultural traditions of some native tribes. The plan is to build a new lake in Northern California that, when full, could hold enough water to supply 3 million households for one year. Supporters need about $4 billion to build it. Wednesday’s vote by the California Water Commission means the lake — named Sites Reservoir — is eligible for about $800 million in taxpayer money, or about 20% of the project’s price tag. The vote is a major milestone for the reservoir, one of seven water storage projects now eligible to receive public money from a 2014 voter-approved bond. But environmental groups complained it was too early for regulators to say the project was feasible, especially since it hasn’t completed multiple environmental reviews required by state and federal law. They argue the project would pull even more water from the state’s rivers, which are already so depleted that fish hatcheries must send fish downstream by truck to give them a chance to survive.


Despite California groundwater law, aquifers keep dropping in a ‘race to the bottom’ [Los Angeles Times]

It emerged during one of the worst droughts in California history, when rampant agricultural pumping was causing groundwater levels to plummet and hundreds of Central Valley wells were going dry. Signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was intended to address overpumping, halt chronic water-level declines and bring long-depleted aquifers into balance.

More than seven years later, however, those goals are still a long way off. The law, known as SGMA, prioritized water management decisions at the local level and laid out a timeline of implementation that spanned more than two decades. Even in farming areas with the most severe problems of groundwater overdraft, the local agencies charged with combating the declines have until 2040 to achieve their sustainability goals. In the meantime, a frenzy of well drilling has continued on large farms across the San Joaquin Valley. Growers have been pumping heavily during the drought, and groundwater levels have continued to drop. As a result, shallower wells supplying nearly a thousand family homes have gone dry this year. Families with dry taps have been left relying on plastic tanks and trucks that roll through the valley hauling water.


A frenzy of well drilling by California farmers leaves taps running dry [Los Angeles Times]

In the verdant San Joaquin Valley, one of the nation’s most productive farming regions, domestic wells are drying up at an alarming pace as a frenzy of new well construction and heavy agricultural pumping sends the underground water supply to new lows during one of the most severe droughts on record. During California’s last extreme drought, which stretched from 2012 through 2016, lawmakers scrambled to protect the state’s dwindling groundwater. The resulting law, however, was limited by politics and compromise. It set up a framework to manage groundwater, but so far has done little to safeguard the precious resource. The Los Angeles Times analyzed state groundwater data from the hard-hit San Joaquin Valley and found that 2021 is on track to see the most agricultural wells drilled since the last drought ended. The Times analysis found that more than 6,200 agriculture wells have been drilled in the valley since the flawed Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, known as SGMA, was passed in 2014.


Charts show where California reservoir totals stand after the latest rainstorms [San Francisco Chronicle]

A recent new round of heavy rain and snow following a dry November soaked a thirsty California landscape — but it wasn’t enough to significantly improve the state’s water storage levels, according to data from the California Department of Water Resources. Even after the atmospheric river storm Sunday and Monday, on top of a similar downpour in October, most reservoirs in Northern California saw little change, and remain below water levels both one year ago and historic averages, according to the data. The rain did boost some reservoir levels slightly — Lake Mendocino, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville all are holding slightly more water than last month, while others stayed the same. But even though the reservoirs didn’t see a significant boost in the short term, the weekend did bring some snow — including 5 feet across the Sierra. In the spring, that snow will melt into runoff, adding to the reservoirs once more, said Michael Anderson, a state climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources.


Napa County backs Walt Ranch mitigation plan [Napa Valley Register]

A divided Napa County Board of Supervisors decided the controversial Walt Ranch vineyard project found an acceptable way to address greenhouse gas concerns related to the expected loss of 14,000 trees. Walt Ranch plans to make up for the loss of carbon-sequestering trees by preserving 124 acres of woodlands and planting about 17,000 trees. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday endorsed the idea by a 3-2 vote, with a final vote to come on Feb. 8. The Walt Ranch project involves grading 316 acres for a 209-acre vineyard and related needs on 2,300 acres in mountains between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa. Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Wines bought the property for vineyards for $8 million in 2005.


California restaurants sue over law they say will drive up cost of bacon, pork [Sacramento Bee]

A coalition of California restaurants and retailers is suing the state to block a law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 that they argue could drive up the cost of bacon and create supply chain backlogs for the pork industry. The lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court centers on Proposition 12, a 2018 ballot measure that prohibits the production or importation of pork raised from pigs kept in confined spaces. It requires in part that breeding sows be kept in a space no smaller than 24 square feet. The plaintiffs include the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the California Grocers Association, the California Restaurant Association, the California Retailers Association and Monrovia-based pork processor Kruse & Son. In a statement provided to the Bee, Kruse & Son said that the company is “left with no choice but to seek relief in the courts as a result of California’s delay in posting final regulations. Without final regulations and appropriate time for the supply chain to comply, the State has left pork producers and consumers vulnerable to acute shortages. Hard-working Californians should not be punished for the State’s inaction.”


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