FarmPolicy

March 26, 2017

Updated- California Drought Issues Persist- Most difficult year facing the San Joaquin Valley in 50 years

Bettina Boxall and David Pierson reported on the front page of Saturday’s Los Angeles Times that, “In another blow to California’s parched heartland, federal officials said Friday that for the second year in a row most Central Valley farmers are unlikely to receive water from the region’s major irrigation project this summer.

“The announcement, while expected, means growers will probably have to idle more land — and produce fewer crops — because there is simply not enough water for all of their fields.

“‘It’s frustrating that we’ll be fallowing the same or more land than last year,’ said Dan Errotabere, a vegetable and nut farmer in Riverdale, 25 miles southwest of Fresno. ‘That equates to lost revenue, lost taxes and less employee hours. The effect on communities is real.'”

Saturday’s article noted that, “The agency’s initial assessment of how much water they can send to growers is always conservative. There are still two months left in the rainy season and if conditions improve, so could the allocation.

“Moreover, the zero allocation doesn’t apply to farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys who have historic water rights that the government must honor before they dole out supplies to everyone else. The bureau expects to send those farmers 75% of their sizable contract amounts, or a total of about 2.6 million acre-feet.”

Boxall and Pierson explained that, “But for many Central Valley growers, 2015 is looking worse than last year, when they left between 400,000 and 500,000 acres unplanted for lack of water, dealing a $2-billion blow to the state’s agricultural sector.

“‘Last year was a struggle, and now we’re dealing with the accumulative effect in year four of drought,’ said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. ‘As we move forward, we’re predicting this will be the most difficult year facing the San Joaquin Valley in 50 years.'”

Jim Carlton reported on Friday at the Wall Street Journal Online that, “California farmers face being cut off from federal water imports for the second straight year, in an unprecedented move likely to worsen crop losses in the nation’s biggest agricultural state.”

Mr. Carlton noted that, “Farmers, meanwhile, say they will have to continue to fallow fields and take other cost-cutting measures as they try to wait out a drought they say has been worsened by federal regulatory restrictions on how water is allocated. Many get water from alternate sources, including wells or by buying it on the private market, but often at a much higher price than the federal supplies.

In 2014, the state’s agriculture economy lost more than $2.2 billion and more than 17,000 jobs as farmers fallowed nearly a half million acres of fields, according to estimates last year by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Barring an unforeseen deluge, the losses this year are expected to be ‘a bit more’ than that, said Jay Lund, the center’s director.”

The Journal article added that, “Dan Errotabere, for example, said his family fallowed 1,200 of the 3,600 acres on their farm in the district last year, ‘and it will be that much or more this year.’ Mr. Errotabere said this year the Fresno County farm likely won’t plant vegetable crops like tomatoes and garlic so well water can be conserved to keep its almond orchards alive. As a result, he said, the farm likely will hire only ’20 to 30′ of the 80 seasonal workers it normally employs.

“‘This is as bad a drought as it comes,’ said Mr. Erratobere, 59, whose family has farmed there since the 1920s.”

House Ag Committee member Jim Costa (D., Calif.) indicated in a statement Friday that, ““Today’s announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, while not unexpected, is another devastating blow to the farmers, the farmworkers and the communities of the San Joaquin Valley. In a year where rainfall in Northern California is normal for this time of year and storage in Shasta Reservoir is also near its historical average for this time of year, for Central Valley Project agriculture, for a second year in a row, to receive none of its contracted water is simply inexcusable. Today’s initial allocation only provides further evidence of how broken California’s water delivery system is for those who live and work south of the Delta and points to the need for Congress to intervene to provide direction to better balance the impacts of regulations. This four year drought and the inability to maximize the capture of the water in the system when it has been available have drastically stunted the Valley’s agriculture industry, and it seems this year will be no different. What has been devastating to this point will now become catastrophic.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook on Saturday indicated that, “During late February, mostly dry weather returned to the Pacific Northwest and northern California, limiting any further drought improvements.”

Drought expansion is also possible across parts of far northwestern California and southwestern Oregon,” the update said.

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