Agriculture reacted positively to California Governor Edmund Brown’s Drought State of Emergency announcement Jan. 17 amid water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history.
California’s chief executive directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for extreme drought conditions.
“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” Governor Brown said.
California agriculture and water leaders responded in a positive fashion to the official announcement.
Western Growers President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Nassif is grateful for Governor Brown’s action, acknowledging that dire drought conditions are wreaking havoc on California growers, especially in the San Joaquin Valley.
“We look to the Governor and the Obama Administration to take emergency actions to ensure speedy approval of any water transfers that are still possible,” Nassif said.
Members of Western Growers produce about half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
Nassif continued, “Just as importantly, if we are fortunate and California receives even a moderate amount of precipitation this year, we look to the Obama Administration to allow the state and federal water projects that convey water from the north to the south, to operate at the highest end of their discretion within the existing rules limiting water exports to protect fish species, when pulse flows reach the Delta.
Governor Brown’s announcement was lauded by Westlands Water District (WWD) General Manager Tom Birmingham.
“The Governor’s declaration recognizes that the State of California is facing unprecedented drought conditions,” the Westlands leader said.
“After several consecutive dry years, compounded by regulations that have restricted water deliveries through the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project, the people who live and work in agricultural areas of the Valley are facing a disaster,” said Birmingham.
Westlands expects to fallow one-third of its 600,000 acres in the coming year since water is unavailable. Westlands is located in western Fresno and Kings counties along the western side of the San Joaquin Valley.
State of Emergency
Governor Brown’s State of Emergency orders state officials to assist farmers and communities economically impacted by dry conditions and to ensure the state can respond if Californians face drinking water shortages.
The order could streamline water transfers and relax other regulatory restrictions placed on water users.
Nat DiBuduo, president of the Allied Grape Growers wine grape marketing cooperative, Fresno, has seen the impact of the drought firsthand in travels from the North Coast to Southern California, and from the Central Coast to the Foothills.
“We need rain – we need snow,” DiBuduo said.
The grape leader supports Governor Brown’s announcement and any assistance on regulatory issues and lower interest rates for additional water conservation and development efforts which would benefit all California growers.
DiBuduo added, “It would be wisely implemented for the benefit of California growers and urban residents alike.”
Dan Nelson, executive director, San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, shared these thoughts on the drought declaration.
“California is facing an extraordinary water supply shortage that has crippled food production on hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley,” Nelson said.
“The impact of the drought will have a deep effect on farm jobs and the associated businesses that depend on a healthy farm economy,” he continued. “The drought declaration will provide a measure of short term relief, but long term solutions to California’s water supply reliability problems are needed.”
The leader of the Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District (DEID), which serves about 400 landowners on 56,500 acres in southern Tulare County and northern Kern County, also welcomed the declaration.
DEID General Manager Dale Brogan said, “It remains to be seen whether it will have any material effect on the 2014 water supply, which could be increased through relaxation of current Delta pumping restrictions. Additional actions will also be necessary by the federal government to provide for increased Delta pumping.”
He added, “Absent significant rain and snow fall during the remainder of the precipitation season, our only hope is to add some common sense to the decisions being made during what is shaping up as an unprecedented dry water year. I trust that our state and federal decision makers are up to the task.”
Last May, the Governor issued an executive order directing state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water and water rights. In December, the governor formed a drought task force to review expected water allocations, California’s preparedness for water scarcity, and whether conditions merited a drought declaration.
“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” said Governor Brown.
“I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.”
Changing farming practices
For the last several years, California growers have made tough production decisions based on back-to-back water shortages. University of California (UC) farm specialists have provided valuable input to help growers make the best decisions based on less available water.
One example is the advice from UC Cooperative Extension almond farm advisor David Doll in Merced County. He cautions almond growers from aggressively pruning trees this winter since too much pruning can increase water use and evapotranspiration rates as new growth develops.
Bob Hutmacher, UCCE cotton specialist, Five Points, says cotton can continue as a profitable crop in California even with reduced water supplies with the help of drip irrigation. About a quarter of all Pima and Acala cotton is now grown with drip irrigation and the percentage is growing.
“One of the main reasons to consider drip is to save water,” Hutmacher said.
Hutmacher’s cotton research includes studies on deficit irrigation. He says growers can decrease water use by 15-25 percent overall (Pima and Acala) in many cases with drip without a significant reduction in cotton yield and quality.
Hutmacher, the optimist, noted that winter is not over yet. He mentioned the last “March Miracle” which occurred about 20 years ago. The drought year created exceptionally dry conditions. Then the skies opened up in March and provided ample rain and snow.
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