Ag Today Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ag Today

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Visalia Times-Delta

Farmers need to help set groundwater rules

By David Castellon

Within the next five years, unprecedented rules for use of groundwater will take effect in California, affecting not only farmers and ranchers, but also cities and other communities that get their water from wells.

Before that happens, rules and the methods for governing groundwater use have to be developed, Fresno attorney Gary Sawyers told a group of farmers and others with an interest in water rights Monday afternoon during a luncheon at the International Agri-Center Social Hall in Tulare.

Those rules being developed under the California’s Sustainable Ground Management Act wisely aren’t coming down from state agencies and handed down to communities, farms and ranches, he said.

Instead, the plan is for “groundwater sustainability agencies” to be formed in each water basin in the state — some comprised of city and county agencies, some comprised of water and irrigation districts and some a mix — to manage and develop rules for groundwater use, said Sawyers, who specializes in water rights law.

“Each plan will be different, because each basin and sub basin is different,” he told the crowd gathered gathered for a luncheon and his keynote speech.

Among the concerns for many farmers in the room is that SIGMA might force them to meter their groundwater and then restrict how mach they can use, a practice that already occurs in most western states except California.

“It’s terrifying. It puts everything we do at risk,” said Steve Wilbur, who grows pistachios, walnuts, cotton and livestock feed crops for his dairy southwest of Tulare.

Adding to that fear is that farmers don’t have a lot of information about what’s coming, he said.

Some restriction on how much water farms and communities pump from their wells seems likely in the Valley, as over pumping has long been a problem here, and a common goal of the groundwater sustainability agencies — or “GSAs” — will be to make groundwater sustainable in each basin and sub basin.

That includes taking action to ensure wells continue supplying water for future generations and that the water is clean enough for agricultural use or drinking.

Those GSAs will have to form by June 30, 2017. If the deadline is missed by any water basins, the California Department of Water Resources could take over governing them and impose its own rules and policies that may not work as well as plans developed by people who live and work in these regions, Sawyer said.

The GSAs also would have to develop within just over four years rules unprecedented in California for groundwater use that will affect not only farmers and ranchers, but also cities and other communities that get water from wells.

Individual home wells will not be affected by SGMA.

The GSAs will have to develop groundwater sustainability plans for their respective basins. In critically-overdrafted basins — which includes much of the Valley — the deadline is Jan. 31, 2020, while others would have to have their plans in place by Jan. 31, 2022.

And if those plans aren’t completed and approved by the DWR by those deadlines — even if they’re delayed by lawsuits — the state agency could opt to take over managing those basins, Sawyer said.

He noted that limiting water use isn’t the only option the GSAs would have to improve well sustainability, as imposing fees for high water use and voluntary fallowing of crops are among the tools they’ll have to work with.

Sawyer’s speech was the first of several planned training events planned by Horizon Nut Company, a pistachio growing and processing business based near Tulare.

Creating the GSAs and developing the sustainability rules will be costly, with groundwater analysis alone likely to cost about $1 million for some groups, and they’ll have to come up with the money to pay for it, Sawyer noted.

“It’s going to be a fair amount of money,” said Tulare Councilman Craig Vejvoda. Tulare formed a GSA with the city of Visalia and the Tulare Irrigation District a couple of months ago.

He estimated the cost of researching, developing and imposing a sustainability plan at “north of” $1 million.

“But we may get grant money,” to offset some or all of those costs, Vejvoda said. “It’s an expensive undertaking, but we have to do it.”



Los Angeles Times

There are six quintillion gallons of water hiding in the Earth’s crust

By Deborah Netburn

Most of us think of the water cycle as something that occurs above ground — water falls from the sky, evaporates back into the atmosphere and then condenses into rain once again.

But above ground water is just a fraction of our planet’s water story.

Hidden in the Earth’s crust are vast stores of what is known as “groundwater” — water that fell from the sky and then trickled into the cracks and crevices between the sand, gravel and rocks beneath our feet.

We can’t see this groundwater, but more than 2 billion people across the globe rely on it for drinking water every day. In arid areas it is pumped out of the ground to grow crops, and it also plays an important environmental role, keeping streams and rivers running in times of drought.

Back in the 1970s a team of scientists estimated how much of the planet’s water lies buried beneath the ground, but that calculation had not been updated for 40 years — until now.

In a new study in Nature Geoscience, researchers took another stab at estimating how much water is stored in our planet’s crust, this time with tens of thousands more data points. They also looked at the age of that water, or how long it had been underground, to understand how quickly it can be replenished as humans keep pulling it out.

“Our maps and estimates show where the groundwater is quickly being renewed and where it is old and stagnant and non-renewable,” said Tom Gleeson, a hydrogeologist at the University of Victoria in Canada who led the study.

Gleeson and his team report that there are six quintillion gallons of groundwater in the upper 1.2 miles of the Earth’s crust. If you could magically pump it all out of the ground and spread it across the continents, it would form a layer of water 600 feet high, or twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.

To derive that number, the scientists used computer models that take into account 40,000 distinct measurements of how much water can be stored in various types of rocks across the planet.

The researchers were also interested in the age distribution of that underground water. Previous studies have shown that water that has made its way into the ground could have fallen from the sky as little as a day ago, or as long as millions — even billions — of years ago.

In particular, the scientists wanted to know how much of the Earth’s groundwater was “modern,” meaning it had entered the ground system less than 50 years ago.

Quantifying the amount of young groundwater is crucial for a variety reasons, they write. It is a more renewable groundwater resource than older “fossil” ground water, and is also more vulnerable to industrial or agricultural contamination.

To see how much of groundwater is “modern,” they decided to look at how much tritium had been found in groundwater across the globe. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that spiked in rain water approximately 50 years ago as a result of above-ground thermonuclear testing.

The team reviewed the scientific literature and eventually found 3,700 tritium measurements of groundwater from 55 countries.

From this data set they determined that just 5.6% of groundwater is less than 50 years old. That’s about enough water to cover a stop sign across the continents, if it was pumped out of the ground.

Gleeson said the finding that modern groundwater was such a small percentage of overall groundwater was the biggest surprise of the study.

In a News and Views article accompanying the paper, Ying Fan of Rutgers University, who was not involved in the work, writes that the team’s findings have several implications.

From a science perspective, it suggests that researchers in the future might look to the Earth’s ancient stores of water for information about our planet’s past.

“[The study] hints at the sluggishness and the vastness of the world’s older groundwater stores, which may record the climate and tectonic history over centuries, milennia or even millions of years,” she writes

She also thinks the results of this study could help inform how we treat the stores of modern or renewable water in the immediate future.

“This global view of groundwater will, hopefully, raise awareness that our youngest groundwater resources — those that are most sensitive to anthropogenic and natural environmental change — are finite,” she concludes.

Gleeson said the next step for his team is to take their new estimates of young groundwater and combine them with local estimates of groundwater use.

“We want to find out how long before we run out of this critical resource,” he said.

Science rules! Follow me @DeborahNetburn and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.




Los Angeles Times

California must capture water, not waste it

By Peter H. Gleick

We don’t know for sure whether the El Niño we face this winter will be a drought buster or a bust. But we had better prepare for a lot of rain and the potential flooding, landslides and disruptions we know especially heavy winter storms can bring to California. At the same time, we need to look past the coming

El Niño at the long-term changes in our weather patterns, as climate change poses new challenges to water managers, planners, utilities and, indeed, all of us.

For the last century, California has had two key strategies for dealing with its winter wet season: Build big reservoirs on the rivers draining the Sierra Nevada to capture and store seasonal runoff and floodwater, and rely on mountain snowpack to build up in the winter and melt slowly over the spring and early summer. That approach brought great benefits to us and helped tame California’s naturally variable weather.

But the era of big dams is over. We’ve built on all the decent dam sites (and some not-so-decent ones), federal money for Western water projects has dried up and the environmental damage caused by dams is now better known. As a result, it is unlikely that more than one or two new big dams will be built in California, and they would do little to expand the amount of water we can actually use.

As for the snowpack, despite El Niño’s potential to drop a lot of snow in the Sierra, as the climate warms, future snowpack will be smaller and it will melt faster, putting more strain on our water supply.

California’s water problems require a multitude of responses. We must reduce inefficiency and waste, and we must find new sources of water. One important approach is to improve our ability to capture, treat and use urban storm water, especially in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.

As we have paved our cities, covering the land with impervious concrete and asphalt, less and less rain is recharging urban groundwater; it’s running off all those hard surfaces into storm sewers and out to the ocean. Every year, hundreds of billions of gallons of storm water wash into Santa Monica Bay, Long Beach Harbor and the San Francisco Bay. Even one inch of rain in Los Angeles can generate more than 10 billion gallons of runoff.

It’s possible to capture quite a bit of that water. We will have to repave streets and parking lots with porous materials so that rain can percolate into the ground and recharge aquifers. Parks, open spaces and urban watersheds must be reconfigured with the same goal in mind. And homeowners need incentives to capture rainfall too, for use on their gardens and landscapes.

Such strategies have benefits beyond increasing local water supplies. They can reduce urban flooding, restore the health of local waterways such as the Los Angeles River and reduce pollution flowing into our oceans and onto our beaches. They can also be adapted for use in agricultural areas. Letting winter storms temporarily flood farmland adjacent to rivers would accelerate the recharge of seriously overpumped groundwater basins in the Central Valley.

The Water Replenishment District of Southern California, which manages groundwater in Los Angeles County, has identified thousands of acres where capturing storm water for groundwater recharge is possible. This could provide tens of thousands of acre-feet of “new” water for the L.A. Basin, reducing the region’s dependence on increasingly scarce and unreliable imported water.

There are specific projects that cities everywhere are undertaking to better manage storm water. In Chicago’s Green Alley program, porous concrete allows storm water to drain into the ground, reducing sewer overflows and minimizing local flooding. Philadelphia businesses have installed roof gardens that absorb as much as half the rain that falls on them; the businesses get a tax credit that helps cover part of the cost.

Locally, the L.A. County Flood Control District, the Department of Water and Power, the nonprofit group TreePeople and the Bureau of Sanitation have launched a pilot program that will retrofit 10 homes with rain-capturing roofs, water storage cisterns and specially designed rain gardens to take full advantage of whatever precipitation falls.

A 2014 study by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that storm water capture in urbanized Southern California and the San Francisco Bay region could increase California’s water supplies overall by 420,000 to 630,000 acre-feet per year — as much water as is used annually by the city of Los Angeles — while also reducing pollution flowing into the oceans.

There is no single solution to California’s water challenges. In the face of unavoidable climate changes and growing competition for limited water, the best strategies will be those that improve the state’s water resilience on many fronts. More emphasis on local efforts that capture water through permeable hardscape, new local ordinances, homeowner incentives and smart infrastructure can help us take advantage of the times when it rains and when it pours.

Peter H. Gleick is president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute in Oakland.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook



Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Critics, supporters of Sonoma County wineries pack hearing on new regulations

By Angela Hart

An estimated 500 people packed the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa on Monday for a meeting to gather public input on potential new regulations on winery development in Sonoma County — a high-profile issue that has drawn backlash from rural residents protesting growth as well as sharp criticism from wine industry representatives who say they are helping preserve open space.

Neighbors who live in prime grape-growing regions like the Dry Creek and Sonoma valleys have been increasingly vocal over the past year about the surge in applications for new wineries, as well as the spread of tasting rooms and wineries that double as event centers.

Scores of rural residents, environmentalists and industry experts spoke at Monday’s three-hour meeting in front of a crowd that appeared split on the issue.

About half the audience wore green T-shirts emblazoned with thick white lettering that read “Proud to support Sonoma County Agriculture,” while others wore stickers that said “Let’s preserve rural Sonoma County.”

Critics say the proliferating operations are drawing unruly crowds, traffic and noise to their bucolic settings, threatening public safety, natural resources and a rural quality of life.

“The present pace of wineries, tasting rooms and events is increasing at an exponential pace — more regulations are needed,” said Wendy Krupnick, a Santa Rosa Junior College teacher who is active with the nonprofit Community Alliance with Family Farms. “This cannot be sustained without depletion of the agricultural land and water, creating a problem that will discourage visitors and frustrate residents.”

Wine industry representatives, however, say that while some problems may exist, most wineries follow the rules. Tasting rooms, events and the customers they attract are a key part of maintaining and driving business for Sonoma County labels, they contend.

Some in the industry say the county should step up enforcement of its existing rules on events and tasting rooms instead of enacting new regulations.

“The county (is) not doing its job,” said Ridgely Evers, a winemaker who owns DaVero Farms and Winery in Healdsburg. “Most of us are trying to do the right thing … the problem is that enforcement is simply not there.”

Monday’s meeting was the first in a series of public forums planned over the next six months. County officials are drafting recommendations for the Board of Supervisors, which is set to take up potentially tighter limits early next year.

A range of proposals put forward by county staff includes standards for setbacks from neighboring property, limits on tasting room operations and hours and rules for attendance, access and parking at events.

Planning officials have sought feedback from a so-called winery working group comprised of rural residents and wine industry representatives over the past six months. One proposal that has come from those discussions includes limiting the number of events and new wineries in Dry Creek and Sonoma valleys — areas that already have a high concentration of wineries and tasting rooms situated on rural roads.

Other ideas include hiring a county event planner to oversee the broad calendar of wine-related events and ensure wineries are following the rules; restricting certain types of events such as weddings; capping industry-wide events, such as the upcoming Winter Wineland; curtailing the number of events allowed on popular wine tasting weekends to limit traffic and noise, as well as ramping up enforcement of existing rules.

Such suggestions drew heated and sometimes emotional exchanges Monday, with some in the audience pleading with county officials to halt winery growth altogether.

“We don’t need more wine; we don’t need more vineyards,” said Sebastopol resident Magick Altman. “There’s not enough water to let this go on.”

Others took issue with the cumulative impacts of wineries on their narrow county byways.

“There is a rural rebellion going, and what we’re trying to do is stop the ‘Napafication’ of Sonoma County,” said Padi Selwyn of Sebastopol, a founder of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, a coalition that says it opposes the “industrialization of agricultural lands.”

There are 439 wineries in Sonoma County, with an additional 60 in the pipeline, according to county officials. Of the operating wineries, 137 host approved events, totaling 2,600 events per year.

County regulations already require people who seek to build a new winery or host events to acquire a use permit, which requires an environmental review, as well as traffic and noise studies.

Critics say those impacts are not adequately studied, leading to areas in the county where wineries are depleting groundwater and creating unsafe neighborhood conditions, such as people driving drunk, and snarling the county’s roads with traffic.

Increasingly, however, winery owners and winemakers are jumping into the debate. They say they are helping prevent suburban housing sprawl and driving the county’s economy into recovery.

“By growing the best product available, and by branding Sonoma County as a quality producer and selling direct to consumers, it’s blunting the efforts of development in the agricultural areas,” said Mike Martini, a partner and general manager of Taft Street Winery in the Russian River yalley. “There are instances where there are issues, but regulation and weakening of the (county) general plan will only hurt the small producers … and those who aren’t complying with their existing use permits aren’t going to comply if you put more regulation on them.”




San Jose Mercury News

Santa Clara County must prevent remaining farmlands from being developed

By Don Weden

Although agriculture is no longer the county’s primary industry, food and farmlands issues remain as important today as they were back when most of our residents derived their livelihoods from farming and related industries.

The situation today is a classic good news/bad news story. The good news includes greater public awareness of the need to eat healthier foods, and our increased access to fresh, healthy produce and meals. The bad news is that hunger and food insecurity persist; that fresh, healthy, affordable foods are not available in all of our neighborhoods; and that some of our remaining farmlands are threatened by development.

Buying fresh and buying local: The popularity of farmers markets shows that many of our residents value the flavors of fresh, locally-grown produce. That preference is mirrored in the increasing number of restaurants that feature locally-sourced ingredients.

Nutrition, hunger and food insecurity: Most of us take convenient access to food for granted. But, many here struggle to meet their daily food needs — including families whose children go to school hungry. In addition, some of our neighborhoods remain food deserts where convenience stores and fast food restaurants predominate. Residents there have little or no access to fresh, healthy, and affordable foods.

Urban farming: While farming is generally a rural activity, small scale urban agriculture will become more common. Backyard produce gardens, community gardens, nonprofit gardens to help feed the poor, subscription gardens, schoolyard gardens, and other forms of urban farming will help meet the demand for fresh, nutritious, affordable produce.

Higher future food prices: The greatest food-related challenge we may face in the coming years is a significant rise in food prices. World population growth, climate change, droughts, water shortages, and growing middle classes in emerging economies may combine to push food prices higher. Higher food prices, growth in the number of retirees living on fixed incomes, and lower and middle class households faced with high housing costs in this area may create the conditions for a “perfect storm” of increased food insecurity and hunger.

Farmers face challenges: Although local farm income has risen recently, farmers face many challenges, like farmworker shortages and conflicts with adjacent land uses.

Farmland losses: Despite its population of almost 2 million people, our county still has productive farmland in Coyote Valley and South County. Some of that land, however, may soon be lost to development. The Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Commission will soon be making important decisions about city boundary expansion requests in the southern part of our county. If approved, these expansions will result in the loss of almost 1,000 acres of farmland — the largest loss of farmland in our county in many decades. This could set dangerous precedents for further future additional losses.

New focus on food and farmlands: We are fortunate to have an increasing number of organizations, businesses, government programs, and farmers working to make fresh, healthy, affordable foods more widely available throughout our county.

To call attention to our county’s various food and farmlands needs — current and future — a diverse array of organizations has recently endorsed a “Santa Clara County Food and Farmlands Resolution” supporting a series of general policies for addressing our food and farmland needs. It can be viewed and downloaded from

Don Weden is a retired Santa Clara County planner. He wrote this for this newspaper.