Ag Today, November 23, 2021

Climate change fuels a water rights conflict built on over a century of broken promises [Washington Post]

The simple way to think about this crisis: There’s no longer enough water to go around to meet the needs of farmers and Native American populations as well as fish and birds. For more than a century, the federal government has overseen an intricate and imperfect system of water distribution intended to sustain an ecosystem and an economy. The whole precarious balance was based on the assumption that enough snow would always fall, and melt, and fill the vast watershed of the Klamath River Basin, which straddles the border of California and Oregon and is home to about 124,000 people. But this year, the region buckled under one of the worst droughts ever recorded. For the first time in more than a century, the region is so parched that the Bureau of Reclamation, which allocates water, has distributed none. No water for farmers, who grow alfalfa that feeds cattle in China, peppermint for tea exported to Europe, and potatoes used by Frito-Lay and In-N-Out Burger. No water for the fish sacred to the Klamath Tribes, who revere the Lost River sucker, shortnose sucker and other species as central to their survival. No water for migratory birds, who rest and breed at two diminished wildlife refuges along the Pacific Flyway. And no water for hundreds of people who live around the Klamath Project. Their wells have run dry.


Wildfires will affect California Christmas tree business for years — and it’ll cost you [Sacramento Bee]

Consumers should prepare to pay more than usual for live and fake Christmas trees this year because of climate change and supply chain issues, according to the American Christmas Tree Association. The real Christmas tree harvest was impacted by wildfires, floods and extreme weather in Oregon, which is the number one producer of Christmas trees in the nation and where many West Coast sellers buy their trees. As a result, the season is expected to have a limited number of trees at a higher cost. “I think there will be a Christmas tree for everyone who wants a Christmas tree, but there are less of them on the market,” said Jami Warner, the executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association. It takes six to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree to maturity, according to Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation. So if the crops’ sealings have been damaged because of drought and wildfires, it’s going to impact the real tree crop for several years. For example, California wildfires have wiped out thousands of giant sequoias and more intense fires fueled by climate change and worsening drought have plagued California forests in recent years, according to the National Park Service.


The latest farm product: carbon credits [New York Times]

Eight years ago, Kevin Prevo started making changes to the land in southern Iowa that his family has farmed for five generations. Mr. Prevo stopped tilling the fields between crop cycles and started planting cover crops he does not harvest — a mix including rye, turnips, radishes and sunflowers — between rotations of his cash crops, corn, soybeans and rye. The changes were intended to help the soil hold additional water and to prevent erosion, leading to more abundant yields, but have the added benefit of drawing more carbon dioxide into the ground and keeping it there. Then, in 2019, Mr. Prevo met a representative from Indigo, a Boston-based agricultural technology start-up that pays growers for carbon credits that result from implementing climate-friendly practices like the ones already in use on his 1,400-acre farm. That change is expected to generate several hundred carbon credits for the farm, which Indigo has contracted to sell for $27 a piece to buyers, such as JPMorgan Chase, Shopify and North Face that are looking to counteract their greenhouse gas emissions. Global cropland has the potential to sequester as much as 570 million metric tons of carbon per year, according to one estimate, and experts say enlisting it to store greenhouse gas emissions will be essential to heading off the worst effects of climate change. But the same experts caution that substantial challenges — some that apply to any nature-based carbon offset, some of which are specific to farmland — must be met before compensating farmers for carbon capture becomes a robust market.


LOIS HENRY: Four valley groundwater plans fail to meet state standards – for now [Bakersfield Californian]

Four groundwater plans in the Central Valley — including those for Westlands Water District, Chowchilla Water District and the Merced and Eastern San Joaquin subbasins — don’t show how they will protect water quality, keep drinking water wells from going dry or stop already sinking land from sinking further, according to the Department of Water Resources. In short, those plans earned “D’s” in DWR’s first round of assessments of Central Valley groundwater plans. DWR expects to issue assessments on the remaining groundwater plans, about 36 that cover the valley from Madera to Kern counties, within the first two weeks of December. Groundwater agency managers weren’t given DWR’s assessments prior to their release Thursday morning so couldn’t answer questions about specific issues. Some plan managers said they only received calls from DWR alerting them to the coming assessments the day before.

DWR says it wants to see responses from the groundwater agencies that show clear actions to reduce harm to domestic well owners and reduce the impacts of subsidence. “We’re not going to accept a plan to do a plan,” said Paul Gosselin, deputy director for the California Department of Water Resources, Sustainable Groundwater Management Office. “We’re looking for very concrete, measurable changes to address these deficiencies.” The groundwater plans are the outcome of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014, which mandates over pumped aquifers be brought into balance by 2040. Balance, in general, means more water shouldn’t be pumped out than goes back in.


Newsom picks new top regulator for PG&E, other California utilities [San Francisco Chronicle]

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday named one of his energy policy experts to be the next leader of the state agency that regulates Pacific Gas and Electric and other big power companies. Alice Reynolds, Newsom’s senior advisor for energy since 2019, will be the next president of the California Public Utilities Commission starting Dec. 31., the governor’s office announced in a news release. Reynolds will inherit an agency that’s trying to address one of the state’s most urgent problems: wildfires caused by power lines, and the prevention measures undertaken by PG&E and its Southern California counterparts. The CPUC vets plans by the investor-owned electric companies to spend customer money on reducing wildfire risk and upgrading the electric grid, among other things. It also regulates privately owned telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit and ride-hailing companies. Much of the CPUC’s focus in recent years has centered around PG&E’s responsibility for a series of disastrous wildfires as well as its controversial program of turning off electricity in order to prevent new fires from starting when dry and windy weather threatens to topple trees or branches onto power lines.


Cloud seeding gains steam as West faces worsening droughts [Washington Post]

As the first winter storms rolled through this month, a King Air C90 turboprop aircraft contracted by the hydropower company Idaho Power took to the skies over southern Idaho to make it snow. Flying across the cloud tops, the aircraft dropped flares that burned as they descended, releasing plumes of silver iodide that caused ice crystals to form and snow to fall over the mountains. In the spring, that snow will melt and run downstream, replenishing reservoirs, irrigating fields and potentially generating hundreds of thousands of additional megawatt hours of carbon-free hydropower for the state. Idaho Power, a private utility serving more than half a million customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon, has used cloud seeding to pad its hydroelectric power production for nearly two decades. But over the past few years, the utility has ramped up its snow-making efforts at the behest of state officials concerned about dwindling water supplies. The premise of cloud seeding is simple. Certain clouds contain large amounts of “supercooled liquid” water, or water that exists in a liquid state below the freezing point. At temperatures below about minus-5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit), adding particles of silver iodide to that water can promote ice crystal formation, resulting in additional snowfall. But while the basic principles of cloud seeding were worked out in the 1940s and more than 50 countries were running cloud seeding programs as of 2017, scientists have long struggled to quantify how effective cloud seeding is — if it even works at all.


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