Ag Today, November 2, 2021

PG&E under federal probe in Dixie fire, expects more than $1 billion in losses tied to blaze [Los Angeles Times]

In yet another investigation into the role that utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric has played in California’s worsening wildfires, the company announced Monday that it received a subpoena from the U.S. attorney’s office seeking documents related to the Dixie fire. PG&E received the subpoena Oct. 7, according to Monday’s regulatory filing, which also said the utility expected to take a loss of at least $1.15 billion from the blaze. The Dixie fire — the second-largest wildfire in California history — ignited in the dense forest of Plumas County in July. In the weeks and months that followed, it burned through more than 963,000 acres across five counties, destroying 1,300 structures and leveling the town of Greenville.


Climate change is now the main driver of increasing wildfire weather, study finds [Los Angeles Times]

In a finding that scientists believed was still decades away from becoming reality, California researchers say that climate change is now the overwhelming cause of conditions driving extreme wildfire behavior in the western United States. As world leaders gathered in Scotland this week to discuss plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a study released on Monday said that global warming was essentially two-thirds to 88% responsible for the atmospheric conditions fueling increasingly destructive wildfires. And that’s a conservative estimate, said study author Rong Fu, a climate researcher at UCLA.

“It’s happened so much faster than we previously anticipated,” she added. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at what’s known as the vapor pressure deficit, which basically describes how thirsty the atmosphere is, Fu said. The researchers found this to be the leading meteorological variable that controls how much land burns in the western U.S. during a given fire season. The higher the deficit, the more moisture the atmosphere saps from soil and plants, priming the landscape to burn. Previous studies have found the atmosphere in the western U.S. has grown thirstier over the last 40 years.


North Coast breathing easier after recent rains, but reservoirs still historically low [Santa Rosa Press-Democrat]

Last week’s surprisingly generous storm and several smaller rain systems expected this week are allowing water managers, ranchers and farmers around the region to breathe a sigh of relief. Abundant rainfall has raised creeks and rivers, filled some storage ponds and provided flexibility to shift to greater reliance on surface water for a spell, reducing the pressure to lean so heavily on groundwater wells in some places. It also filled smaller storage ponds and has started a new greening of the landscape in pastures that had been grazed down to cracked earth long ago. “We’re all just in awe,” said Healdsburg dairyman John Bucher. “It’s almost like you can watch it grow. It’s just crazy.” It also means domestic consumers are using substantially less water for outdoor irrigation, reducing demand on the system, said Don Seymour, principal engineer with the Sonoma County Water Agency. But while recent wet weather has allowed most folks to take a bit of a breather, it’s likely just that, however: a breather, a respite. Long-term reserves, especially in Lake Mendocino, are still at abysmally low levels. A significant amount of rain is still needed to raise water levels enough to face next spring and summer with any confidence that there will be sufficient supplies to get through to the winter afterward.


California farm town lurches from no water to polluted water [Reuters]

The San Joaquin Valley farm town of Teviston has two wells. One went dry and the other is contaminated. The one functioning well failed just at the start of summer, depriving the hot and dusty hamlet of running water for weeks. With temperatures routinely soaring above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), farm workers bathed with buckets after laboring in the nearby vineyards and almond orchards. Even as officials restored a modicum of pressure with trucked-in water, and after the well was repaired, the hardships have endured. Teviston’s 400 to 700 people – figures fluctuate with the agricultural season – have received bottled drinking water since the well failed in June. But for years, probably decades, the water coming from Teviston taps has been laced with the carcinogen 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, or 1,2,3-TCP, the legacy of pesticides. The Western U.S. drought, the most severe in 125 years of record-keeping, is exacting a further toll on communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, where people living on the edge of farmland gather many of the crops but little of the largesse from California’s $50 billion agricultural industry.


Famed Napa vineyard for sale for nearly $8 million [KRON-4 San Francisco]

A historic vineyard estate in Napa Valley just hit the market for $7,900,000. The 34 acre, 3 parcel estate sits on Howell Mountain, one of the most storied American Viticultural Areas in the world, according to Compass.The current owners have been producing wine by world-renowned winemaker Heidi Barrett for 24 years. Barrett has been coined “the first lady of wine” and “the Queen of Cult Cabernet” by wine critic Robert Parker. Purchasing the vineyard presents new owners “a rare opportunity to own a historic esteemed vineyard with near Cult Status,” according to the listing.


Vineyard insectaries attract beneficial bugs, feed birds that eat the others [Napa Valley Register]

“Attract the good bugs, and birds to eat the bad bugs.” When facing the elements, viticulturists are willing to do just about anything to safely and naturally solve their disease and biodiversity woes. So when one such solution — or rather part of the solution — takes the form of beautiful blooms and buzzing bees, it’s not hard to imagine why so many California vineyards use insectaries as an asset. One such vineyard is the Groth estate in Napa Valley’s Oakville, where Suzanne Groth and vineyard manager Ben Forgeron are working to attract beneficial insects like butterflies, ladybugs, bees and aphid-killing parasitic wasps. Over in Alexander Valley, Jordan Winery is also fostering a thriving insectary, and in this past year alone, planted more than 3,400 plants across 100 different species on their properties. As part of this project, Jordan went through a total of 200 pounds of seed and planted approximately 600 milkweed plugs to support the at-risk Western Monarch butterfly.