Ag Today, November 16, 2021

$1 billion project to expand major Bay Area reservoir gains momentum [San Jose Mercury News]

The rolling hills and ranchlands of eastern Contra Costa County are known for wineries, cattle ranches, wind turbines and growing subdivisions. But soon they may be known for something else: The biggest new water storage project in the Bay Area in years. The Contra Costa Water District is moving closer to breaking ground on plans to expand Los Vaqueros Reservoir, south of Brentwood, by raising the reservoir’s earthen dam by 56 feet, to 287 feet high. That would make it the second tallest dam in the Bay Area, eclipsed only by Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma near Healdsburg, which is 319 feet high. Construction, slated to begin in late 2023 and finish by 2030, would expand Los Vaqueros from its current 160,000 acre-feet capacity to 275,000 acre-feet, enough water when full for the annual needs of 1.4 million people. Two weeks ago, the California Water Commission, a nine-member agency appointed by the governor, voted unanimously to confirm that the project qualifies to receive $470 million from Proposition 1, a state water bond passed by voters in 2014.


Helicopter flies large ‘hoop’ over Ukiah Valley to measure groundwater basin [Ukiah Daily Journal]

The helicopter you may have seen flying over the Ukiah Valley while carrying what looked like a large hoop in recent days is being used to measure the large aquifer that supplies groundwater to many crucial wells in the region, including those relied upon by the city of Ukiah. According to the California Department of Water Resources, this month was the first time the Airborne Electromagnetic (AEM) method was used to survey the Ukiah Valley groundwater basin, though it has been used in the Sacramento Valley, Salinas Valley and Indian Wells Valley. Q. Has this been done before? A. The AEM method has been used for decades to map aquifer structures and support groundwater management, both nationally and internationally. Three pilot studies were conducted in California to support the development of the AEM project in the Sacramento Valley in Colusa and Butte county groundwater basins; the Salinas Valley in Paso Robles groundwater basin; and in the Indian Wells Valley groundwater basin.


Opinion | The cow-shaped hole in Biden’s methane plan [Politico]

The Biden administration’s action plan misrepresents and minimizes the livestock sector’s contribution to the methane emergency. According to the action plan, the oil and gas sector is the “largest industrial source” of methane emissions in the U.S. Landfills are “the second largest industrial source.” But the cited Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data does not support this. According to the EPA’s own data, the animal agriculture industry is the No. 1 industrial source of methane emissions in the U.S., contributing an estimated 37 percent of total human-caused emissions. the White House’s climate plan for animal agriculture consists entirely of subsidizing “voluntary” and “incentive-based” methane-reducing technologies and practices. These industry-promoted measures, such as adding new ingredients to livestock feed that reduce methane production and capturing (and later burning) methane released by factory farm manure lagoons, promise to reduce “emissions intensity” — the emissions produced per pound of meat and dairy products.


Can California correct coffee? [Santa Barbara Independent]

When Jay Ruskey the farmer started talking like Jay Ruskey the tech entrepreneur one morning last June, I started wondering whether he’d put something else in my coffee. He’d just brewed us a batch from beans grown at his farm, Good Land Organics, where I was expecting to get a brief update on how he was still managing to eke out an existence in the exotic fruit trade. Ruskey had just launched a new series of farm tours, which I assumed was the latest part of his continued preaching about the wonders of California-grown coffee to an audience afraid of its high cost. Ruskey, I quickly realized, was no longer just a small-time organic farmer exploring obscure fruits like caviar lime, lychee, and longan up a dead-end road on the western edge of Goleta. He was inventing an entirely new California industry, completely from scratch, and one that ultimately aims to add resilience to agriculture in a changing climate and challenge coffee’s status quo, which may be the most exploitive commodity market on the planet. And he’s doing it all at light speed.


This Colorado ‘solar garden’ is literally a farm under solar panels [NPR]

Researchers at Colorado State University and the National Renewable Energy Lab have been studying how to turn all that otherwise unused land beneath solar panels into a place to grow food. With close to two billion dollars devoted to renewable power in the newly passed infrastructure bill, the solar industry is poised for a win. But there have long been some tensions between renewable developers and some farmers. According to NREL, upwards of two million acres of American farmland could be converted to solar in the next decade. But what if it didn’t have to be an either or proposition? What if solar panels and farming could literally co-exist, if not even help one another. Last year, Boulder County updated its land use code. And soon after KByron Kominek installed the solar panels on one of this pastures. They’re spaced far enough apart from one another so he could drive his tractor between them. But he soon discovered that the shade from the towering panels above the soil actually helped the plants thrive. That intermittent shade also meant a lot less evaporation of coveted irrigation water. And in turn the evaporation actually helped keep the sun-baked solar panels cooler, making them more efficient. Walking the intricately lined rows of veggies beneath the panels, he beams pointing out where the peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, lettuces, beets, turnips, carrots were all recently harvested. The farm is still bursting with chard and kale even in November.


Winged warning: Migrating birds hit hard by California’s drought [Chico Enterprise-Record]

It says something about the complexity of California’s water crisis that there are so many actors in the state’s water wars, all clamoring for more. Nature, alone, is silent in this fight, relying on others to speak on behalf of the welfare of wildlife and waterways. Across the state, biologists, farmers and hunters are lending nature a helping hand. It’s sometimes an extreme intervention: trucking young salmon when drought shrinks rivers. But this year these lifelines aren’t enough. Migratory birds — protected by state and national laws and an international treaty — are suffering mightily during this drought, even more quickly than they did during the last major dry spell, which lasted five years and ended in early 2017. This year is the driest on record in the Lower Klamath Basin, a lush region of marshes and streams that straddles the Oregon-California border. The refuges there are “almost completely dry,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Susan Sawyer.


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