Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , ,

A time of reckoning in the Central Valley

Mark Schapiro, BAY NATURE

Inside a climate-controlled laboratory at the Duarte Nursery outside Modesto, an experiment is taking place that could help determine what food we will eat for decades to come. Rows of steel racks contain numerous tiny almond, apple, walnut, pomegranate, pecan, avocado, fig, and pistachio trees in small translucent plastic cylinders. The saplings, planted in a high-nutrient agar mix that accelerates growth, are no more than two inches high and a few weeks old. Each is being subjected to versions of the stresses experienced just outside these walls in fields across the Central Valley: declining levels of water, escalating levels of salt. The big overarching, if unmentionable, force driving these experiments is climate change, which is beginning to roil the Central Valley.

Duarte, one of the largest commercial nurseries in the world, specializes in tree nuts and fruits, which have boomed across the valley in recent decades. Founded four decades ago, the nursery grew rapidly as water piped into the valley from the Sierras gave birth to the most bounteous center for agriculture in North America. The nursery now sprawls over 200 acres in the town of Hughson, just outside Modesto. Things began to change about a decade ago, according to John Duarte, the nursery’s president.

When I first met Duarte back in 2012, he resisted calling the shifts he was seeing climate change: “Whether it’s carbon built up in the atmosphere or just friggin’ bad luck,” he said then, “the conditions are straining us.” Today, he still avoids the climate change label. (“You should meet my daughter; I think she agrees with you on the climate business,” he told me recently.) But even seven years ago, Duarte was on the forefront of researching tree varieties suited to a hotter, drier, saltier future.

Trees present a particular challenge: Conditions shift, but the trees can’t move. A fruit or nut tree planted today may, depending on the species, be ill-suited to climatic conditions by the time it begins bearing fruit in five or ten years. So the question Duarte is trying to answer, the one bedeviling farmers across the valley, is, what to plant today that can thrive and bear fruit over the next quarter century or more?

“Everyone,” Duarte said, “is thinking about the impacts of warm winters and not enough water.” Valley temperatures are predicted to rise between 3.5 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, while periods of extreme heat are expected to lengthen. Even now, it’s often not cold enough in winter to permit trees’ metabolism to slow down, a process critical to the spring flowering that produces fruits and nuts later in the season. Irrigation water is becoming saltier, too. Desperate farmers drilling ever-deeper wells are pumping up saltier water. And a new state law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, will likely serve as a catalyst of change. Starting in 2020, it will regulate how much water farmers can withdraw from the Central Valley aquifer. The law promises to shake up the methods and business of valley agriculture.

The lessons learned here, or not learned, have implications for agricultural regions elsewhere, from the American Midwest to North Africa, southern Europe and southwest China. These breadbaskets are already experiencing similar extremes of heat, drought, and flood, and new pests and diseases.

Climate change is revealing the vulnerabilities of an industrial agriculture system that relies on predictability. And it’s shining a light on alternative growing practices that are potentially more resilient to these environmental shifts.

“When I drive to the Central Valley, I get goose bumps; I feel the urgency,” says Amélie Gaudin, an agronomist at UC Davis who works with many Central Valley growers on improving soil quality. “I see an agriculture that is basically hydroponics. It’s like a person being fed/kept alive by an IV.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/article/a-time-of-reckoning-in-the-central-valley/

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on Things to know about California's new water rules

Things to know about California's new water rules

Fenit Nirrapal, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Brown lawns, dusty cars and idle sprinklers loom this summer under Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate to reduce urban water use by 25 percent to get through the drought. The State Water Resources Control Board approved new restrictions Tuesday that include a mandatory target for each local water agency to reduce consumption.
Here are some things to know about this plan:
Why is the state doing this?
California is far from running out of water, but it’s not clear when the drought is going to end. Regulators say saving urban water is the cheapest and most efficient way make sure communities have enough water if the drought persists and to avert more drastic cuts later.
Who does it affect?
It’s up to the state’s hundreds of local water agencies to enforce the rules to meet the local targets. Water experts say that letting lawns go brown is the single most important step that can be taken, but state regulators also want water conservation to be top of mind when people are doing laundry or taking showers.
How will California reach 25 percent conservation?
Each community has a water reduction mandate of between 8 percent and 36 percent, depending on past use. The state believes it’s easier for water-guzzling cities and desert resorts to make huge cuts by neglecting big lawns. Water-frugal communities with few lawns such as San Francisco are less able to conserve even more.
Is everyone on board?
Dozens of cities have blasted the water reduction targets as unfair and unrealistic. The plan also has highlighted regional tensions. Diverse regions of the state, from wealthy beach towns to rural Central Valley communities, are jockeying for limited water. Some agencies that have conserved for years complain that they are lumped in with cities that just started metering water use. Others say they are being punished with large cuts even after preparing for the drought by building local storage supplies and water-saving technology.
What if communities don’t meet their targets?
Communities with pitiful savings face hefty fines, although the water board says that’s a last resort. The board says it will focus on helping communities find ways to drive down use. The state does have the power to intervene, including compelling new restrictions and raising local water rates, but has never done so. Gov. Jerry Brown wants to give local agencies the authority to issue fines up to $10,000, but more than half of communities that reported their enforcement efforts have not issued any fines at all.
What’s next?
The board says it expects to see large cuts immediately. The approaching summer season is the peak time for water use and the best opportunity to save by letting lawns go thirsty. Communities will report their water use monthly, and regulators say they’ll investigate agencies that lag in conservation.
Source: Things to know about California’s new water rules | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on California adopts mandatory water cuts as savings by North coast cities slips

California adopts mandatory water cuts as savings by North coast cities slips

Staff and Wire Reports, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In the weeks since he walked into a snowless Sierra Nevada meadow earlier this year to proclaim California’s drought a growing threat, Gov. Jerry Brown has argued that the Golden State would need a jolt to take water conservation more seriously.
That push may have finally come, as state water regulators late Tuesday took unprecedented action, adopting sweeping restrictions on how people, governments and businesses can use water in what is now the fourth year of drought. The moves include California’s first mandatory urban water conservation targets, meant to fulfill Brown’s call to cut urban water use by 25 percent statewide.
“It is better to prepare now than face much more painful cuts should it not rain in the fall,” State Water Resources Control Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus said Tuesday as the board voted 5-0 to approve the new rules. “This is the moment to rise to the occasion.”
As outlined by the state water board in preliminary moves last month, the new conservation targets call for cuts ranging from 8 to 36 percent for hundreds of cities and water agencies, including those on the North Coast, where the reductions start at 16 percent and top out at 28 percent.
The rules also will trigger other local restrictions — some already in place — to limit outdoor irrigation and other water-squandering practices.
It’s still not clear what punishment the state water board and local agencies can or will impose for those that don’t meet the targets. Board officials said they expect dramatic water savings as soon as June and are willing to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag.
Brown also has proposed fines of up to $10,000 for the worst offenders, but that plan requires legislative approval and no bill has been introduced.Tuesday’s action came amid the release of new state figures that showed Californians conserved little water in March and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste.
Read more via: California adopts mandatory water cuts as savings by | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , , Leave a comment on Grape growers could alleviate Occidental’s wastewater issues

Grape growers could alleviate Occidental’s wastewater issues

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Occidental’s embattled wastewater treatment system needs a multimillion-dollar upgrade completed within three years, and nearby grape growers are likely part of the solution.
If that plan — expected to cost $5 million to $6 million and bump up rates for the sewer district’s roughly 100 customers — doesn’t work out, the small west county community’s wastewater might be trucked out of the area for treatment, officials said.
The proposed solution, including improvements to the existing treatment plant on Occidental Road and a pipeline carrying wastewater to a vineyard on Morelli Lane, will be reviewed at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Union Hotel in Occidental.
Residents will have a chance to comment on the potential impacts of the project as part of the determination of whether it will require a full environmental impact report.
Because the proposed project would be on property already used by the system and on county roads, the county hopes to issue a “negative declaration” and avoid the time and expense of a full report, said Cordel Stillman, Sonoma County Water Agency chief deputy engineer.
Occidental’s system, one of eight operated by the Water Agency, faces a Jan. 31, 2018 state deadline to stop holding treated wastewater in a pond next to the treatment plant, used as a storage reservoir since 1977.
Read more via Grape growers could alleviate Occidental’s wastewater issues | The Press Democrat.