Environment, Social Implications in Agriculture, What is Organic

Can California’s Farmers and Fish Navigate the Current Water Dilemma?

We ended 2017 in California with one of the driest Decembers on record. San Jose had its second driest December since records began in 1893. San Francisco had its fourth driest dating back to 1849, according to the National Weather Service in Monterey.

Despite recent rains in the news, the entire state of California is still well below average in precipitation for the season to date.  California has seen less precipitation  due to a ridiculously resilient high-pressure ridge that knocks all the storms away from California’s thirsty landscape.

While the largest wildfires in California’s history raged in what should be one of the wettest months of the year, California farmers continued pumping much-needed water from a series of canals to grow our food.

California’s Central Valley Water Project was created in the 1930’s and established the richest most prolific farming region in the country. This magnificent system delivers water to California’s central valley farmers through a series of dams and hundreds of miles of canals.

It enables California to produce more than 400 commodities. In 2015, agriculture contributed about $47 billion to the state’s economy. Almonds, grapes, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes and walnuts are just a few of the diverse and delicious crops that are produced when you add water to sunshine in the Golden State.

This water delivery network is equally crucial to organic farmers and organic consumers. According to the latest USDA data, California leads the nation in organic production. California accounts for 38 percent of the U.S. total of certified organic commodity sales grown by 2,713 certified farms on 1.1 million acres. This is 21% of all certified organic land in the U.S.

The series of dams and canals has also contributed to the near extinction of Delta smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon and other native aquatic species. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife lists 34 species of fishes as either threatened or endangered due to California’s delivery of fresh water to feed its agricultural thirst.

Years of drought in California and court orders to protect native fish significantly curtailed water deliveries to farmers in recent years.

Now the Trump administration has made it clear that water is a priority for California’s farmers.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently announced that it would begin looking to make changes to the California water project. They intend to increase pumping and take other measures to “maximize water deliveries” for the Central Valley Project irrigators.

This decision has many environmentalists alarmed because it will likely make conditions even worse for the nearly exhausted native fish.

California continues to be under the influence of La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean where cooling waters near the equator historically increase the chances of dry winters. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is currently at 34 percent of its historic average because of low rainfall and record-high temperatures. We may be entering another period of drought if the patterns hold, leaving both fish and farmers vying for evaporating resources.

If you wish to weigh in on the new proposal, written comments are due by close of business, Feb. 1, 2018. You can email kharrison@usbr.gov. U.S. post or hand-deliver to Katrina Harrison, Project Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, Bay-Delta Office, 801 I Street, Suite 140, Sacramento, CA 95814-2536; fax 916-414-2439.

Both farmers and fish need the water flowing into the state’s streams, reservoirs and deltas. How do we best manage our precious water supplies to grow more food to feed a hungry world and protect our native aquatic biodiversity?

Where do you weigh in on this water dilemma?


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