Agriculture

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Climate Change Offers Up a New Wine List

Climate change could dramatically affect the microclimates that have made California wine country so successful. (Photo: Lauren Sommer)

You’ve probably heard of the wines that made Napa and Sonoma famous, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. But what about Negroamaro or Nero d’Avola?

They’re wine grapes that are well-adapted to hotter climates – the kind of conditions that California may be facing as the climate continues to warm. But for wineries that have staked their reputations on certain wines, adapting to climate change could be a tough sell.

Talk to any wine lover in California and they’ll tell you how lucky they are to live in such rich wine-producing region. Take the recent meeting of the San Francisco Wine Lovers Group at Toast wine bar in Oakland, where the favorites are California Pinot Noir, Russian River Zinfandel, and Napa Cabernet.

In fact, the type of grape – or varietal – is how most of us think about wine. Continue reading

A Water Meter Mandate for California Farms

Regulators seek better tracking of farm water use

Flooded rice fields in the Sacramento Valley. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Most urban dwellers get a water bill each month that’s based on how much water they use. But on some California farms, that’s not the case.

“In many parts of the state, the amount of water farmers use is not measured,” says Susan Sims of the California Water Commission.

Instead, farmers are charged a flat rate for water in some districts. Sims says that makes it difficult for farmers to conserve water. “It’s very hard, even when you want to conserve. I think the first step in saving water is knowing what you’re using.”

Toward that end, the Water Commission votes today on rules that would require water districts to meter the volume of water farmers use — and to charge them accordingly. Sims says many water districts, including some in the San Joaquin Valley, already do this. Others in Northern California don’t. Continue reading

What Will Your Water Cost?

Report: Big changes needed to avert “widespread environmental and economic losses” in California

Grand illusion? Water rushes over the spillway at Nicasio Reservoir in Marin County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

A high-profile team of experts is calling for a major overhaul of the way California manages its water. In a 500-page report from the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, the authors say decades of well-intended water policies simply haven’t worked, leaving the state vulnerable to major crises, including water shortages, catastrophic floods, decline & extinction of native species, deteriorating water quality, and further decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Our system has been dying a death by a thousand cuts,” says co-author Ellen Hanak, an economist and policy analyst at the PPIC. Hanak says that the state’s water management efforts have been “incremental” and “piecemeal,” with little success to show for it. Continue reading

The Central Valley’s Giant Sucking Sound

Studies reveal huge water withdrawals from aquifers under California’s Central Valley

The New York Times this weekend published a story and useful graphic describing new findings on the intensity of groundwater pumping in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

One eye-opening note from Felicity Barringer’s article:

“…the total loss of groundwater from the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins in California’s Central Valley from 2003 to 2010 was just under 16.5 million acre-feet — approximately the volume of the Lower Colorado River reservoir, Lake Mead, when it is full.”

Lake Mead is the nation’s largest man-made reservoir (and has not been full for some time).

The research, by scientists at a Massachusetts arm of the Stockholm Environment Institute, includes projections for water supply and demand in California and the Southwest. The article points out that about a third of Californians’ total water use is groundwater.

Californians Who Rely on Delta at “Severe Risk”

Here’s a shocker: Yes, action is necessary on the San Francisco Bay Delta

(Photo: US Fish & Wildlife)

State and federal authorities provided an update Wednesday on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which is tasked with restoring the damaged ecosystems of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and safeguarding California’s water supply.

“The 25 million Californians who rely on the Delta for clean drinking water are at severe risk,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, on a call with reporters. Continue reading

Imperial Valley Confronts its Water Future

Peter Osterkamp hopes his generation of farmers isn't the last in the Imperial Valley. (Photo: Krissy Clark)

Clichés about water in California can seem more abundant than the water itself these days.  But that doesn’t make the clichés any less true.

There’s that Mark Twain saw about how “whiskey is for drinkin’ and water is for fightin’,” and the line about how water flows uphill toward money.  And then there’s the time Twain fell into a California river and “came out all dusty.”

All those quips seemed fairly dead-on when I was down in the desert of southeastern California recently.  I was reporting for two radio stories on how Imperial Valley farmers are facing the double wallop of an eleven-year drought (and counting) in the Colorado River basin, and the expected effects of climate change.  Recent models suggest that Lake Mead — the giant reservoir that stores Colorado River water for Imperial farmers and much of the Southwest — has a 50% chance of drying up in the next 50 years.  Talk about dusty.  And because the Colorado is so over-allocated already, no water is left by the time the river reaches — make that attempts to reach — the Colorado delta in Mexico.  More dust. Continue reading

State Water Picture Improves

If you’re counting on water from the State Water Project, this year is at least starting off better than the last couple.

For the farms and towns that depend on deliveries from the SWP, the outlook for the coming year is better than in recent years, which is not to say ideal.

State water managers today made their preliminary estimate that customers would get one quarter of the water requested from the system. That beats last year’s initial estimate of five percent–the lowest on record. Mark Cowin, who heads the state Department of Water Resources, says these early estimates are intentionally stingy:

“Over the past few dry years, CA has made good progress in improving our ability to conserve water,” Cowin told reporters in a conference call today, but cautioned that “We must continue to promote an ethic of using water efficiently—regardless of  the day-to-day outlook for water supplies.”

But Cowin says that between the wet spring and early start to the rainy season this fall, chances are good that the initial 25% projection will rise.

A key reservoir on the system, Lake Oroville, stands at more than three-quarters of its average for this time of year, whereas last year at this time, it was only about half full. By the time the water year was winding up, DWR officials had raised the allocation to 50%. They added that with average precipitation the rest of the way, customers could end up with about 60% of their hoped-for deliveries in 2011. So far this season, precipitation is running ahead of the long-term average.

You can check on how the state’s major reservoirs are doing throughout the year, with our interactive map.
View KQED: California Reservoir Watch in a larger map


View KQED: California Reservoir Watch in a larger map

Water in the State Water Project, like the federally run Central Valley Project, comes in large part from the mountain snowpack of the Sierra and lower Casdade ranges. Growers typically make up for shortfalls by pumping more groundwater.

San Benito PV Array Clears a Key Hurdle

Panoche Valley is located in San Benito County, between Hollister and Fresno. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Cupertino-based Solargen Energy cleared a major hurdle this week in its plan to build a nearly 400-megawatt solar farm in the Panoche Valley. Late Tuesday the San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously  approved the company’s environmental impact report. The project has seen opposition from environmental groups and valley residents concerned about the impact of covering more than 4,700 acres with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The Board also approved the water supply assessment and canceled several Williamson Act contracts, both paving the way for the project to move forward.
Continue reading

Cow Power Not Cutting It

Cows at Fiscalini Farms in Modesto, California. (Photo: Sheraz Sadiq)

Last year, as part of a radio series on methane, I drove down to visit John Fiscalini, who was building a huge methane “digester” to convert his cows’ “byproducts” into clean energy, and reduce the carbon footprint of his sizable dairy farm and cheese factory outside Modesto.  After millions of dollars in design and construction costs, Fiscalini was fed up with state air and water regulators, who he felt were pulling him in different directions. A year later, have things improved? Not so much, as Quest’s Lauren Sommer found out, when she returned to the San Joaquin Valley for an update. — Craig Miller

Three years ago, KQED’s QUEST visited a Central Valley dairy that was taking an innovative approach to its waste problem. Instead of collecting thousands of pounds of cow manure in open holding ponds, Joseph Gallo Farms uses it in a renewable energy technology known as a methane digester. Continue reading

From Russia: More Heat, Less Wheat

This post also appears at Climate Central, a content partner of Climate Watch.

By David Lobell

The heat wave in Russia has captured international media attention, breaking temperature records left and right (see figure below). It has also captured the attention of commodity traders. In a typical year Russia produces about as much wheat as the United States, and is among the top exporters of wheat flour in the world. But this year, wheat has been decimated in the areas around Moscow, with yield expected to be 30 percent or so below normal. This week Russia announced they are banning all exports of wheat from August 15 through the end of the year. Since late June, wheat prices on the Chicago Board of Trade have risen by 50 percent, to more than $7 a bushel. Continue reading