Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

New study confirms less water usage in vineyard can result in better grapes

Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT

But the oversight comes as academic research is showing that less water is better for the grape crop, which was valued at $357 million in 2020 in Sonoma County. It can even improve grape quality. A UC Davis study released earlier this month found that grape growers in our region can use less water on vines without affecting crop yields or quality.

As local farmers well know, Mother Nature can be cruel in administering her gifts.

That was the case on the night of Sept. 11 when the crew over at Emeritus Vineyards in Sebastopol felt raindrops as they picked the pinot noir grapes to go into the winery’s premium wine.

While any rain is appreciated during an exceptional regional drought, the precipitation came an inopportune time for the winery that would wrap up its harvest just a week later, said Riggs Lokka, assistant vineyard manager.

“All of the sudden at 1:15 in the morning, it just dumped,” Lokka recalled.

The episode underscored the conditions vineyard managers are operating under: their industry is facing a prolonged era of water scarcity in which growers don’t want to put one more drop of water on their vines than needed.

Local agriculture’s water usage has come under increasing scrutiny. Three of Sonoma County’s 14 groundwater basins are subject to increased monitoring and regulation. Those areas are mandated to be sustainable within 20 years, which means to have no significant drop in water tables on a year-over-year basis. In addition, state regulators so far this year have ordered more than 1,800 water right holders in the Russian River watershed to stop water diversions unless they obtain waivers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/new-study-confirms-less-water-usage-in-vineyard-can-result-in-better-grapes/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , ,

Coastal grape growers can use less water during drought

Emily C. Dooley, UCDAVIS.EDU

Study finds using less doesn’t compromise quality

    • Study sheds new light on how to mitigate drought effects
    • California coastal grape growers could cut irrigation water by half without affecting yield or quality
    • Replacing 50% of the water lost to evapotranspiration is most beneficial to grapes’ profile and yield

California grape growers in coastal areas can use less water during times of drought and cut irrigation levels without affecting crop yields or quality, according to a new study out of the University of California, Davis.

The findings, published today (Sept. 1) in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, show that vineyards can use 50% of the irrigation water normally used by grape crops without compromising flavor, color and sugar content.

It sheds new light on how vineyards can mitigate drought effects at a time when California is experiencing a severe water shortage and facing more extreme weather brought on by climate change, according to lead author Kaan Kurtural, professor of viticulture and enology and an extension specialist at UC Davis.

“It is a significant finding,” Kurtural said. “We don’t necessarily have to increase the amount of water supplied to grape vines.”

Read more at https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/coastal-grape-growers-can-use-less-water-during-drought

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City of Ukiah plans to defy state curtailment orders to deliver water to the coast

Justine Frederiksen, UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL

The city of Ukiah announced Tuesday that it plans to divert water from the Russian River in order to deliver water to residents of the Mendocino Coast, actions that would be in direct defiance of the curtailment orders imposed by the California State Water Resources Control Board in early August.

“We don’t agree that the water is not there, it is,” said Sean White, director of water and sewer resources for the city of Ukiah, describing the amount of water the city intends to make available to coastal residents as “very small amount” of water that is within the 1.4 cubic feet per second that the city describes as being allowed under its “water right that dates back to 1874.”

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors recently approved allowing qualified haulers to drive water from Ukiah to the coast — specifically the city of Fort Bragg, which coastal communities like the Village of Mendocino typically buy water from — but so far no qualified hauler as been identified as willing and able to perform the deliveries.

“I am sure they will find somebody,” White said Wednesday when asked if the discussions regarding the city providing water to the coast were in fact moot. If a hauler is indeed found and hired, White said the city would likely charge them three cents a gallon for what he estimated would be about 65,000 to 75,000 gallons a day, or about $2,000 worth of water.

Read more at https://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/2021/09/01/city-of-ukiah-plans-to-defy-state-curtailment-orders-to-deliver-water-to-the-coast/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

California enacted a groundwater law 7 years ago. But wells are still drying up — and the threat is spreading

Rachel Becker, CALMATTERS

Called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act or SGMA, the laws gave local groundwater agencies in critically overdrafted basins 26 years — until 2040 — to achieve sustainability and stop impacts of overdraft from worsening.

As drought worsens, there are few, if any, protections in place for California’s depleted groundwater. The new law gave local agencies at least 26 years — until 2040 — to stop the impacts of over-pumping.

Kelly O’Brien’s drinking water well had been in its death throes for days before its pump finally gave out over Memorial Day weekend.

It wasn’t a quiet death at O’Brien’s home in Glenn County, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Spigots rattled. Faucets sputtered. The drinking water turned rusty with sediment. In the end, two houses, three adults, three children, two horses, four dogs and a couple of cats on her five acres of land were all left with no water for their sinks, showers, laundry, troughs and water bowls.

As extreme drought spread across the state, O’Brien feared that the water underneath her property had sunk so low that it was out of the reach of her well.

“The whole time you’re going, ‘Oh please, let it be something else. Let it be a switch. Let it be the pump — let it be anything but being out of water,’” O’Brien said. She worried that she might have to take out a second mortgage to afford the thousands of dollars if her well had to be drilled deeper.

Soon O’Brien learned that other wells were failing around her. She heard about one neighbor to the north, another to the east. The list kept growing: She started a Facebook group for owners of dry wells to share their woes and resources, and it grew to more than 665 members.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/environment/2021/08/california-groundwater-dry/

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , ,

Is it sustainable for Sonoma County to build new homes during an ongoing water crisis?

Ethan Varian, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in 2023, the state wants Sonoma County to approve over 14,500 new homes for residents of all income levels over the following eight years.

Though no final target has been approved, officials in some of the county’s largest cities have made ramping up home construction a priority with the goal of alleviating the region’s shortage of affordable housing.

At the same time, though, the state is also mandating water cutbacks across the region during what is shaping up to be the worst local drought in more than four decades.

The two seemingly competing mandates have some questioning the wisdom of continuing to push growth in the face of a water crisis.

“How are we still approving new development in the midst of a two year drought with no idea what’s going to happen next year?” said David Keller, a Petaluma resident and Bay Area director of Friends of Eel River, a Eureka-based environmental advocacy group.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-bay-qa-is-it-sustainable-for-sonoma-county-to-build-new-homes-durin/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Lake Mendocino water levels trigger curtailments for all water rights in Upper Russian River

MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Curtailments likely for Lower Russian River within a week

From the State Water Board:

With California experiencing a historic drought amid worsening climate change impacts, the state is responding urgently to address acute water supply shortfalls in affected areas. Water in Lake Mendocino is below minimum storage levels and dropping at an alarming rate, threatening supplies for drinking water and endangered fisheries.

In response, the State Water Resources Control Board issued curtailment orders today to all 861 water right holders in the Upper Russian River. The orders make it illegal to draw or divert water from the Upper Russian River, except as needed to ensure human health and safety.

The State Water Board also released an analysis of the Lower Russian River demonstrating that approximately 222 right holders need to be curtailed to meet demands on the river. The board anticipates issuing orders to these right holders next week.

To maintain flows in the Upper Russian River, water is released from Lake Mendocino, a reservoir north of Ukiah. The supplemental water protects multiple fish species and municipal and agricultural uses, and during drought, accounts for all the water in the river. Currently, about 200 acre-feet is released from the lake into the river each day, enough to meet the needs of 400 households per year.

“The lake is declining much faster than anticipated,” said Erik Ekdahl, Deputy Director for the Division of Water Rights. “If the depletions continue at this rate, the 20,000 acre-feet, end-of-season minimum storage level could be reached almost six weeks ahead of schedule. The lake could be entirely empty by the end of the year, putting both people and wildlife in harm’s way.”
Continue reading “Lake Mendocino water levels trigger curtailments for all water rights in Upper Russian River”

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , , , , , ,

State cuts off hundreds of Russian River growers, ranchers and others in drastic bid to save water

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A day long dreaded by hundreds of ranchers, grape growers, farmers, water providers and towns arrived Monday as the state ordered them to stop diverting water from the Russian River watershed or be fined $1,000 a day.

State regulators issued orders effective Tuesday prohibiting about 1,500 water rights holders in the upper river — including the cities of Cloverdale and Healdsburg — from diverting water in an effort to preserve rapidly diminishing supplies in Lake Mendocino.

The State Water Resources Control Board also announced plans to curtail another 310 claims in the lower river watershed as early as Aug. 9 to try to slow the drawdown of Lake Sonoma. Another 500 or so rights in the lower river region between Healdsburg and Jenner remain subject to curtailment as conditions deteriorate.

The order is enforceable by fines up to $1,000 a day or $2,500 for each acre foot diverted. Violations also could draw cease-and-desist demands that could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day, according to the State Water Board.

The restrictions are part of a sweeping, unprecedented attempt to confront a historic drought that water managers fear could extend into a third dry winter.

That would leave the region to struggle through another year using only the water already captured in the two reservoirs. That water is not just for basic human health and safety. It also must be used to keep the river flowing for fish and other wildlife and provide for water rights holders along the way.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-taking-unprecedented-action-to-conserve-water-in-upper-russian-river/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , ,

Op-Ed: As river dries up, saving water is pivotal

Brenda Adelman, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Months ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom, facing a recall campaign while managing extraordinary wildfires COVID-19 and worsening drought, called for a voluntary water conservation effort that initially targeted only Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Not too much later, as the greatest reservoirs in the state came closer to reaching their lowest levels, Newsom asked the entire state to voluntarily reduce water usage by 15%, while never calling for mandatory savings. In the meantime, water levels went down, down, down.

As conditions became much worse, local reductions became mandatory. Most cities and counties had followed orders to save water with short showers messages, restricted garden watering, full dishwashers and clothes washers, etc. Yet the situation continued to become worse.

Of the past seven years, at least five have seen much lower than normal rainfall, a trend that might not end next winter if La Niña causes another water-short year. Combined with precedent-setting heat waves and record-setting firestorms, scientists are viewing this as further proof of a global warming syndrome.

To make matters worse, Sonoma Water’s “Schedule of Actual Water Deliveries in Acre Feet” indicates a significant increase in water use. The prime contractors (plus Marin Municipal Water District) purchased 6,117.8 acre-feet more water in the 12 months ending June 30 than they had in the previous year, a 9% increase in water sales. Marin Municipal is not a regular contractor, but it used 2,351.3 acre-feet more during the same period. Santa Rosa used 28 acre-feet less and was the only contractors with a reduction.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/close-to-home-as-river-dries-up-saving-water-is-pivotal/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Death by design: National Park Service vs tule elk

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Instagram users love the captive tule elk hoofing Tomales Point at the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore.

The sleek, befurred mammals seem to commune with tourists who stroll a well-traveled trail in the preserve. Tule elk are Yoda-like, with big, brown eyes. They trumpet, munch flowers and make love in harems.

According to a 1998 National Park Service brochure, “Given the mild climate and lush habitat of Tomales Point, the elk live in a virtual paradise.”

Let’s take a closer look. Using the fact-focusing lens of science, we learn that hundreds of tule elk inside the preserve are dying in agony from starvation and thirst and eating poisonous plants. They are trapped in an ecological hellscape operated by a bureaucracy that fences the animals away from forage and water for political reasons.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/death-by-design-how-the-national-park-service-experiments-on-tule-elk/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , ,

Sonoma County apple growers find their crop holds up well despite drought

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As he walks the rows of his apple orchard in the hills west of Sebastopol, Stan Devoto can’t help picking fruit off the branch. The thinning will allow the remaining fruit to better thrive in a year that has now been classified locally as exceptional drought.

The apples need to be spaced between 4 to 8 inches on the branch so they can grow into flavorful varieties such as Honeycrisp, Pink Lady and more bitter ones that are used in hard cider. More than 100 different types of apples are harvested within Devoto’s 25-acre orchard. Because of the drought, the apples will be smaller when harvest kicks off in late July, which means the overall tonnage for the crop will be down in the county this year.

“We are thinning further apart this year and keeping our fingers crossed,” said Devoto, who has been farming on the land since 1976. That was right before the last time when there was such an extreme drought in the area.

“We got through it (the 1970s drought). But it is so dry here that weeds won’t even grow. It’s really crazy,” Devoto said.

Even with the difficult circumstances, apples are one of the best drought-resistant crops within the county along with olive trees whose fruit is used for making olive oil, said Agriculture Commissioner Andrew Smith.

“The standard apple trees have a much larger root system, and they go much larger into the soil profile. They are able to find that available soil moisture to use for growth,” Smith said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/north-bay/sonoma-county-apple-growers-find-their-crop-holds-up-well-despite-drought/