Ag Today Friday, January 22, 2016

Ag Today

Friday, January 22, 2016


Redding Record Searchlight

Siskiyou County residents express worry over wolves

By Damon Arthur

YREKA — Some 300 people showed up at a hearing in Yreka on Thursday night to comment on the state’s draft Gray Wolf Conservation Plan.

Most of those who spoke represented ranching and hunting groups from Siskiyou County who were concerned about the wolves’ return to California.

“I don’t want a wolf kill on my place,” said Ryan Walker, a Siskiyou County rancher, referring to wolves killing cattle. “I need to know where the wolves are.”

The conservation plan attempts to manage the growing number of wolves that have showed up in the state during the past year.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife plan analyzes where wolves are likely to live in the state, what they will prey on, how they will affect livestock ranchers and humans. The state is also holding conservation plan meetings in Sacramento and Long Beach.

This past summer, fish and wildlife biologists documented the state’s first pack in more than 80 years. DNA analysis of the wolves’s droppings indicate they came from the Imnaha pack in northeast Oregon.

Many of the ranchers who spoke Thursday urged the state to put radio collars on the wolves so they can take steps to protect their cattle.

Patrick Griffin, a wolf consultant for Siskiyou County, said after a calf was killed, ranchers wanted to know where the wolves were so they could prevent another death.

“After the incident on the east side of the county, it would have been nice to know where the wolves have gone,” Griffin said.

The DFW’s Eric Loft told the crowd that getting the wolves collared is a high priority. However, state officials need to locate the wolves before they can collar them.

“We’ve lost track of the Shasta Pack. We don’t know where they are,” said Karen Kovacs, a program manager for the department.

Fish and wildlife officials said wolves probably killed a calf in Siskiyou County in November. Kovacs urged those in the audience to notify the department when they see a wolf or any evidence of one.

Mark Baird, a leader in the State of Jefferson movement, said he suspects the wolves are being trucked into the state, and he and others are looking for evidence.

But Loft denied that and said he, too, would like to see evidence of anyone in the fish and wildlife department trucking in wolves.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said he was concerned about wolves harming people, as well as the economic impact wolves will have on ranchers.

“I’m very, very concerned, and so are my fellow sheriffs, both inside and outside California,” Lopey said.

Rich Klug, with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said he was concerned about how wolves would affect elk herds. He said there are only about 7,000 elk in Northern California. If wolf packs grow too numerous, they could greatly reduce the numbers of elk, which are wolves’ primary source of food, he said.

About a half-dozen people also spoke in favor of wolves. Karin Vardaman of the California Wolf Center said she was eager to work with ranchers and state officials to prevent cattle deaths.

“We have no desire to see cattle die,” Vardaman said.

“I’m very, very concerned, and so are my fellow sheriff’s, both inside and outside California,” Lopey said.

Rich Klug, with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said he was concerned about how wolves would affect elk herds. He said there are only about 7,000 elk in Northern California. If wolf packs grow too numerous, they could greatly reduce the numbers of elk, which are wolves’ primary source of food, he said.

About a half-dozen people also spoke in favor of wolves. Karin Vardaman of the California Wolf Center said she was eager to work with ranchers and state officials to prevent cattle deaths.

“We have no desire to see cattle die,” Vardaman said.



Fresno Bee

Most of San Joaquin Valley on state list of critically overdrafted groundwater basins

By Lewis Griswold

The state Department of Water Resources on Thursday released a list of 21 groundwater basins and subbasins that are overdrafted, causing land subsidence, chronically lowered groundwater levels and, in the case of the Salinas Valley, seawater intrusion.

Eleven of the areas are in the San Joaquin Valley, the nation’s leading farming region.

“It was a given that we were going to be in a critical deficit area,” said Fresno County Board of Supervisors chairman Buddy Mendes of Riverdale.

A map released by the state shows areas of overdraft extending from San Joaquin County to Kern County, with only two areas around Modesto and Turlock not included.

Regions in “critical overdraft” under the state list must meet the earliest deadlines of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that became law in December 2014, and local governments and water entities in the southern San Joaquin Valley are gearing up for it.

Large swaths of Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties have overdrafted basins and subbasins. Overdraft is caused by pumping groundwater and not fully replenishing it.

The Kings and Westside subbasins encompass much of Fresno County, plus parts of Kings and Tulare counties, while the Kaweah, Tulare Lake and Tule basins and subbasins encompass much of Kings and Tulare counties.

Madera and Chowchilla groundwater areas are also listed.

Groundwater sustainability agencies must be formed by June 30, 2017, and management plans specifying how to tackle the overdraft, subsidence, water quality and other issues must be written by Jan. 31, 2020. The new law mandates groundwater sustainability by 2040.

Fresno will try to solve its groundwater overdraft problem by using more water from the San Joaquin and Kings rivers and less from wells beginning in mid-2019, said Tommy Esqueda, director of public utilities.

Last year, the City Council approved spending $429 million to build water pipelines and a water treatment plant to make that possible, he said.

“It’ll restore and recharge our groundwater aquifer,” he said.

The Kings subbasin includes Fresno, Clovis, Fresno Irrigation District and other entities.

It’s expected that perhaps five water sustainability agencies will be formed, each with their own plans that will be knitted together to manage groundwater for the subbasin, said Cristel Tufenkjian, of the Kings River Conservation District, which manages water flows in much of the area.

“We’re helping coordinate an overall base effort,” she said.

Boundaries of subbasins do not coincide with the boundaries of counties or irrigation districts, so counties will partner with neighboring counties and irrigation districts to create the agencies.

By necessity, Tulare County will play a leading role in its area, said Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida, also chairman of the Tulare County Water Commission.

“We have to be partners to make sure they get done, and play a part in overseeing all of them to be sure they come out with an agreeable plan,” he said.

Mendes said he believes the Kings subbasin can attain groundwater stability, but the Westside subbasin will need water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which have been curtailed as a result of the drought, he said.

“The west side can be very sustainable if delta pumping is allowed,” he said.

Moving water south from the delta faces a high degree of environmental scrutiny.

In Tulare County, groundwater recharge will require water deliveries from the San Joaquin River over many years, Ishida said.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold,



Monterey County Herald

PacifiCorp Pursues Dam Removal After Collapse Of Klamath Legislation

By Jeff Mapes

PacifiCorp is now trying to reach a quick deal with federal and state regulators to remove four aged dams on the Klamath River.

The aggressive action by the big western utility follows the failure of Congress over the last four years to pass sweeping legislation aimed at ending the water wars in the Klamath Basin that straddles the states of Oregon and California.

Supporters of restoring free flows on one of the West Coast’s biggest salmon rivers are cheered by the prospect of finally seeing the dams demolished. But Klamath Basin farmers say they’re worried they will be left behind without any of the water guarantees included in the federal legislation.

That legislation collapsed last month in large part because of Republican opposition to language that would have helped speed removal of the four PacifiCorp dams, three in California and one in Oregon.

But, ironically, it may be that a move toward dam removal is the first major result to come out the failure of of the legislation.

Bob Gravely, a PacifiCorp spokesman, said removing the dams is “still our preferred path.”

The utility is talking with officials from Oregon, California and the federal government on modifications to one of the key pacts – the Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement – aimed at ending the pitched fights over the river’s future.

Gravely said the utility wants to quickly reach a deal to access some $250 million from a California water bond approved by voters that could help pay for dam removal. The utility is also facing pressure from California’s decision to restart action on a new water quality permit for the dams, something that PacifiCorp could be hard-pressed to win.

“If we’re going to move forward” with a new version of the hydropower settlement agreement, Gravely said, “we think it has to happen quickly … I think months.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California, whose coastal district includes the mouth of the Klamath River, said he’s optimistic that the congressional failure of the agreement puts new pressure on PacifiCorp to move toward removing the dams.

“Frankly, I’m more encouraged than I’ve been in a while,” Hoffman said in an interview with OPB. “I see more possibilities for dam removal and restoration, without this paralysis that, frankly, this agreement had brought us to. Everything was hanging on a congressional action that wasn’t going to happen.”

Richard Whitman, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s natural resources adviser, said the states and U.S.Department of Interior officials are close to reaching an agreement with PacifiCorp on how to move forward with dam removal. Ultimately, it could take the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission four years to issue an order allowing the demolition of the dams.

However, Whitman said officials in both states are determined to make sure irrigators and tribes are not left behind.

“Gov. Brown is very concerned about the stability of the communities in the basin, both irrigated agriculture and the Native American tribes,” he said, adding that they want to ensure that a hydropower agreement also include some assurances for the tribes and farmers.

Whitman said he is talking to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, and other members of the state’s congressional delegation about moving forward with a bill that would deal with some of those issues. Among other things, the irrigators have been seeking reliable access to water while the Klamath tribes are seeking a large grant that would help restore their historic lands.

Greg Addington, a consultant for the Klamath Water Users Association, said he learned just in the last week about PacifiCorp’s determination to move ahead in cutting a deal on dam removal.

“It’s sort of our worst fear,” he said. “We’re all worried about getting left behind.”

Addington said the water users have received assurances that they won’t be forgotten. But he said he thought they were unlikely to get an agreement as good as the one promised in the legislation that Congress failed to enact.

The Klamath water users have asked the other parties involved in the Klamath water pacts to meet in Sacramento on Feb. 3 to talk about plans to modify the hydropower settlement act.

Besides issues facing irrigators and the tribes, the utility has been particularly concerned with ensuring that it receives liability protection against lawsuits stemming from damage caused by dam removal, such as problems caused by sediment that has built up behind the dams.

Gravely, the PacifiCorps spokesman, said that if the utility can’t get agreement on a plan for dam removal, it will seek a new license allowing it to continue operating the dams. Critics of the dams, however, say they doubt the utility can meet new environmental standards – including improved fish passage – that have been put in place since the dams last received a license in 1956.

Thomas Schlosser, a Seattle attorney representing the Hoopa Valley Tribe in in legal action aimed at speeding dam removal, said he thought the utility was fine with the long congressional inaction over ratifying the Klamath basin agreements because it could continue to operate the dams under the old license.

Now, said Schlosser, there’s an opportunity to get moving on the hydropower settlement.

“Dam removal is really key” to restoring the river, he said, “and we’re finally close to it.”



Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Rice farmers receive annual briefing

By Chris Kaufman/

Water, legislation, initiatives and conservation efforts were some of the key topics at the annual California Rice Commission’s 2016 grower meeting.

A few hundred rice growers gathered for a morning away from the farm at the Bonanza Inn Convention Center on Thursday to hear from industry advocates about the state of rice in the state.

“I found a lot of value in hearing about how farm policy coming out of the state and federal systems might affect growers,” said Nicole Montna Van Vleck, president and CEO of Montna Farms. “Second and at the top of everyone’s mind is the various discussions about water.”

Van Vleck, also chairperson for the California Rice Producers’ Group, said Sites Reservoir would be success for securing water, especially critical in the current drought.

Additionally, she said, rice growers are responsible for creating about 60 percent of the habitat and food for ducks and geese.

Louie Brown, with Kahn, Soares & Conway in Sacramento, shared his insights about legislation and initiatives that may affect rice growers, including the Sustainable Ground Water Management Act.

The act gives local agencies, such as water, irrigation and reclamation districts, the power to adopt groundwater management plans based on the specific needs and resources of their region.

“You don’t want to be left out,” said Brown, who added the State Water Resources Control Board can assume oversight, if no local agency proves they can develop and plan and show they’re making progress. “If you haven’t heard from local agencies that are planning to participate, I suggest you reach out to them.”

Brown said Sites Reservoir, a California Department of Water Resources project that would create an artificial lake located west of Colusa, is moving forward in Sacramento.

“The Joint Powers Authority for the Sites Reservoir is doing a great job in preparing for the project to be funded up to 50 percent by bond money,” Brown said. “There would be benefits for agriculture, recreation and public safety.”

While the rice growers were meeting, Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a discussion draft of her California Long-Term Provisions for Water Supply and Short-Term Provisions for Emergency Drought Relief Act, a bill to help the state deal with the drought emergency as well as future long-term effects of climate change.

The bill authorizes $600 million for water storage projects in California and other Western states. These funds may be used on federal projects like Shasta, as well as nonfederal projects like Sites, Temperance Flat and Los Vaqueros. The bill also establishes deadlines for the Bureau of Reclamation to complete feasibility studies to build or raise dams. These funds run through 2025.

At the growers’ meeting, Brown said even though we’re in an El Niño year with heavy storms expected, the State Water Resources Control Board will continue pushing conservation goals, especially in urban areas.

An average of 2,500 bills are introduced each year, Brown said. Of those, about 1,000 get to the Governor’s office and of those about 900 are signed.

“Agriculture is the only industry that allows 10 hour work days without overtime,” said Brown. “New laws seek to reduce that to eight hours.”

He said California lawmakers who attended the Paris Climate Change Conference in November will likely introduce legislation that will try and reduce methane.

“I don’t think we’ll be a target but that could change,” said Brown, who added rice cultivation produces some methane.

Changes in term limits, which allow for legislators to remain in office for up to 12 years, will help provide consistency in addressing issues in their districts.

“These are complex issues and people need time to learn about those issues and how to address them,” said Brown, who referenced Assemblyman James Gallagher. “From your perspective, longevity in the Assembly is a good thing.”

Tyson Redpath, with Russell Group, gave a Washington, D.C., overview to the crowd, saying decreased farm profitability and high debt levels aren’t good.

“In terms of commodities, we have too much in to many places,” said Redpath. “Post El Niño, it’s typically a hot time, and that could help with the commodity issue.”

David Guy, executive director of the Northern California Water Association, said Shasta Lake has been doing well, based on the levels over the past few days.

“We’re encouraged by the precipitation and snow pack but we’ve got a long ways to go to get the reservoirs up,” he said.

CONTACT Chris Kaufman at 749-4794. Find him on Facebook at ADPhotoTeam or on Twitter at @AD_PhotoTeam.



Merced Sun Star

Brown’s good speech includes a bad idea

Jerry Brown is a master of ceremony. His State of the State speech Thursday in the Assembly chambers was at once informative, humorous, only a little braggy and, well, maybe even inspiring.

He recited his many accomplishments, including balancing the budget, creating (and protecting) a rainy-day fund, battling climate change, expanding health care and improving wages.

Naturally, at the end of his speech Gov. Brown also brought up water – just barely. But that’s when he began to lose credibility.

For all his accomplishments, Gov. Brown is most invested in dealing with California’s water issues. Unfortunately, this very popular governor is going about it in the wrong way. He started by giving voters well-deserved praise for having passed the water bond last year. Then he went too far, conflating his own “California Water Fix” with that bond, trying to link one with the other. Worse, he didn’t mention that he doesn’t trust the voters to have a say in whether they believe his Water Fix will work.

That’s an unworthy political trick even for a master politician.

The online version of the governor’s speech included a link to a slick YouTube video to help sell his pet project. That video gently criticizes previous attempts to alter California’s plumbing. Never did it occur to Brown that a future governor might similarly bash the Water Fix, as having been poorly thought out and fraught with unintended consequences.

In his speech, the governor noted that all of California’s inhabitants form “a complex system which must be understood and respected.” He insisted that pitting farmers against fish “misses the point.”

He’s right about that, but shipping the state’s largest single supply of fresh water under the Delta so it can be sent to farms and cities far south of here also misses the point.

He can’t explain how embedding two 40-foot-wide tunnels beneath the Delta – circumventing a system that nature began developing long before man could interfere – respects our ecosystem or nature. That’s because he can’t.

Knowing we might see through such a subterfuge, the governor used a scare tactic. He pointed out that “disasters happen,” mentioning earthquakes and floods.

Building his tunnels could create its own disaster. Nowhere in his 2,400-word speech did Gov. Brown touch on the thought that as the Sacramento River – which makes up 80 percent of the Delta’s water – is siphoned south, water from our San Joaquin River and its tributaries will be needed to hold back saltwater incursion from ruining the West Coast’s largest estuary. He never explained how a far, far smaller river can do the work of the mighty Sacramento River. Perhaps such detail is too complicated, too complex or too inconvenient.

He never explained why voters, who did such a good job passing the water bond, will be excluded from having a say on the tunnels. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a man still smarting after voters emphatically rejected his peripheral canal in 1982.

Brown’s budget puts millions toward the project. And many experts say 2016 will be pivotal for the success or failure of the Water Fix. Do-or-die decisions must be made if the project is going to proceed.

The governor’s scant mention of the tunnels and the linked video is probably a soft launch to the coming campaign, likely to be ferocious. By burying the point in a video link, the governor was hiding the ball.

Yes, Jerry Brown is a master of ceremony and politics. But not, we fear, of fixing California’s water issues.




San Jose Mercury News

Mercury News editorial: EPA should ban the cause of bee colony collapse

The mystery of bee colony collapse may have been solved. Doing something about it — that’s another thing entirely.

Bees are crucial to our way of life, pollinating a large portion of the plants we rely on for food and even clothing. Their diminishing numbers have been a concern for years, and wholesale deaths of colonies, wild and kept by beekeepers, are affecting agriculture and heightening concerns in California.

Now the Environmental Protection Agency has found a conclusive link to the insecticides called neonicotinoids, the most widely used ones in the world. It may move to ban them by the end of the year — but, naturally, multinational conglomerates such as Bayer are fighting a ban, saying more studies are needed.

Responsible scientists say the insecticide is massively overused, and the EPA’s research is conclusive. The agency should listen to the science and take swift action to protect the bees — and all of us.