Friday, March 4, 2016
California orange growers worry about disease that kills trees
By Lewis Griswold
VISALIA – Citrus growers from Florida and Texas attending an annual conference of California growers told 700 fellow farmers and industry professionals about damage to their trees caused by citrus greening disease.
The disease drastically cuts yields and ruins fruit before eventually killing the tree.
Also known as huanglongbing or HLB, the disease is carried by the Asian citrus psyllid insect, a pest that has been found in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.
“The biggest threat facing the citrus industry worldwide is HLB,” said Kevin Severns, chairman of California Citrus Mutual, an industry association that held the conference.
To date, the disease has not been detected in citrus groves in California.
By contrast, Florida got hit 11 years ago and Texas more recently.
“I do half a million boxes (of citrus) today – I used to do 1 million,” said Ric Freeman, a citrus grower in Winter Garden, Fla., and a board member of the Florida Citrus Mutual trade association.
Production in Florida has been cut by 60 percent as the disease has destroyed orchards, he said.
“It’s a death sentence,” said Dale Murden, president of Texas Citrus Mutual. “Don’t let your guard down … Make ACP (Asian citrus psyllid) public enemy No. 1.”
California growers are in some ways fortunate that the disease hasn’t appeared yet, because now more is known about how to fight it, and there is time to take action, he said.
Larry Black, a citrus grower from Lakeland, Fla., and president of Florida Citrus Mutual, urged the California growers to “get aggressive. Zero tolerance – don’t let this get away from you.”
Frequent pesticide spraying keeps down bug populations, and removing infected trees from groves and backyards is effective, he said.
Scientists are working on the problem, said Ed Stover, a USDA research horticulturalist from Fort Pierce, Fla.
Some root stalks seem to produce trees that tolerate citrus greening disease, but the most promising research is in genetically engineering trees to resist the disease, he said.
Another avenue of hope is breeding tiny wasps that lay eggs in citrus psyllid larvae. Research is being done at the University of California, Riverside.
The specter of the disease taking root in the Valley is discouraging, some farmers said.
“It’s pretty heart-wrenching,” said Exeter grower Chuck Hornung. “I didn’t realize Florida was in as tough shape as it is. I don’t know if I could keep farming if I know my grove is going to die in a short amount of time.”
But grower Clarence Hill of Visalia said he’s “guardedly optimistic – there’s no choice. I have a great deal of my wherewithal invested in oranges.”
Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, said he believes the disease can be stopped before it harms the California citrus industry.
“Will it find the citrus industry?” he asked. “I say no. Ideally, we won’t have the HLB problem.”
Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold
Questions remain on plans for Sites Reservoir
By Heather Hacking
Oroville – Questions remain about plans to build Sites Reservoir. This week the Butte County Water Commission was asked to approve a letter of support for the project to build a new surface water storage reservoir near Maxwell.
Soon, the State Water Commission plans to distribute some of the Proposition 1 funds, and the project could receive a chunk of money for part of the pre-building process.
During the discussion Wednesday, most members of the Water Commission appeared to approve of the concept for Sites Reservoir. Yet, the majority of the group also wanted to add their questions to a letter of support.
The letter would be sent to the county Board of Supervisors, who would then send a letter of their own to the State Water Commission.
Momentum to build Sites Reservoir has picked up over the past year. Passage of the Prop. 1 water bond was seen by many as support for more water storage. Last year elected state and federal leaders held a rally in Chico urging people to send letters of support for the reservoir.
However, speakers from three Butte County environmental groups made it clear Wednesday that support for the reservoir is not unanimous.
Near the end of the discussion this week, the question was whether the commission was ready to send off a letter of support.
Chair George Barber, manager of Paradise Irrigation District, said he’s behind the project. He said local agencies are leaders in the process, which can provide benefit to people in Northern California.
Barber acknowledged there are questions still to be answered, but he said he felt comfortable giving support for the idea at this point.
However, in a rollcall vote the majority of water commissioners voted to wait before sending the letter of support. Instead, staff at the county’s Department of Water was asked to write a new letter. This time, commissioners want questions to be included in the letter.
Commissioner David Skinner said he would like to see bullet points with people’s concerns. Members of the Water Commission can vote next month which concerns should be included, he said.
The intent is not to “throw a red light” at the project but rather to give a “precautionary green light,” with specific questions to resolve, Skinner urged.
Water commissioner John Scott made it clear throughout the discussion that he is not in support of Sites Reservoir.
During the meeting, Carol Perkins, representing the Butte Environmental Council, said the money in the Prop. 1 water bond would be better spent on studying groundwater storage.
While there has been support cast for the reservoir, Perkins predicted people will hear more opposition as the planning continues.
Adding to Perkins’ thoughts, Lucas RossMerz , executive director of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust, said Sites Reservoir will be a “project for the south of delta water users.”
Everyone knows that, RossMerz said. “That’s why so many districts south of the delta are for this project.”
Representing AquAlliance, Jim Brobeck urged the Water Commission to wait to ask for Prop. 1 funding until 2018. That would give Sites Reservoir leaders time to show who will pay for the project and who will manage it, Brobeck said.
At the end of the discussion, a roll call vote was taken on whether to send a letter in support of Sites Reservoir this week, or to wait until next month when concerns could be added to the letter.
Those voting to wait, and add concerns, included D. C. Jones, Scott, Skinner, Ernie Washington and Tony Archuleta. Those voting to send the letter right away included Barber, Kathy Chance, Brad Mattson and Ryan Schohr.
PLANS FOR SITES
As of the most recent design, Sites Reservoir would be built about 10 miles west of the town of Maxwell, in Colusa County. Water would fill the reservoir during times of high flow, and up to 1.8 million acre-feet could be stored. Water yield each year would be 400,000 to 500,000 acre feet a year, with half dedicated to the environment and half for other users.
One acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons, or enough water to cover one acre of land with one foot of water.
Part of the push for the project locally is to have local water users pledged for use of the water. So far, local water users have signed up for 130,00 acre-feet of water, a report by the county Water Department states. Those involved have said it will be necessary to have investors from outside of the Sacramento Valley before the project can be funded.
Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.
San Francisco Chronicle
El Niño won’t solve California’s water crisis
By Devon Mathis
There has been a lot of optimism for the last year that El Niño could bring California relief from the five-year drought. But though we have seen our rivers swell and our mountains capped with snow, the precipitation from El Niño is not enough to provide a long-term solution to California’s water crisis.
California’s water woes are not simply from a lack of rainfall and changes in the climate; they exist because of a lack of infrastructure that even in times of record rainfall is not sufficient for our state’s needs.
While some in the Legislature believe that we need to further regulate our water use, the best solution is to invest in our water infrastructure.
The amount of water that our federal and state regulators have allowed to wash away into the Pacific Ocean is startling.
According to agribusiness water users, since 2012 we have lost 2.3 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons. That means that in the last four years, California has lost 749 billion gallons.
That water would have been enough to provide more than 5 million four-person families the water they need for a year or enough to irrigate more than 500,000 acres of fallowed farmland. California’s Central Valley was once an idyllic green farmland that produced 2 billion pounds of food, but today it is home to thousands of Californians who no longer have running water in their houses.
While the drought has meant shorter showers and a browning lawn for most Californians, thousands of families in the Central Valley are forced to drive to their neighborhood church to take a shower and can’t flush their toilets at home. I lived in better conditions while serving in the Army in Iraq during wartime. It is unacceptable and appalling that in 2016, we have families living in such squalor in California.
The 749 billion gallons that we have washed away could have filled several of our reservoirs: Millerton Lake (1.3 million acre-feet), Pine Flat (1 million acre-feet), Folsom Lake (1.2 million acre-feet) and San Luis Reservoir (2 million acre-feet).
This problem is rapidly expanding outside of the Central Valley. Our state’s aquifers are becoming tapped out, which is causing our land to sink. Geologists say that if this persists, the aquifers could collapse, and once that happens, they can never be refilled or used again. If the land under the aqueduct drops, it could crack and damage our aqueducts beyond repair. This would completely cut off Southern California from its water supply.
We must recharge our aquifers, build more storage, enhance our filtration, and expand our water delivery. Even with this terrible drought, we have sufficient water to meet most of our needs and priorities while maintaining the flows in the delta required to keep that vital ecosystem healthy.
Devon Mathis, R-Visalia (Tulare County), represents the 26th Assembly District.
Orange County Register
Billions of gallons needlessly flushed out to sea
By Mike Wade
Why is it that Southern California residents have sacrificed with brown lawns, 5-minute showers and “flushing only after number two,” while bureaucrats have been flushing vast quantities of water to the ocean? These actions are supposedly meant to prevent harm to threatened and endangered Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon. Sadly, flushing all this water to the ocean, year after year, has shown no measurable ecosystem benefits and, instead, resulted in a monumental waste of water.
Consumers and farmers are being unjustifiably denied what should be fairly normal water supplies this year while bureaucrats continue to waste water on a failed experimental effort to help fish. Unfortunately, the fish aren’t recovering, and the bureaucrats are just making a bad situation worse for all Californians.
People who receive water from the state and federal water systems are seeing this year’s supply once again flushed to the ocean – water that 3 million acres of farmland and 25 million consumers depend on.
In less than 90 days – from Dec. 1, 2015, to Feb. 28, 2016 – almost 200 billion gallons of water has been flushed out through San Francisco Bay. That’s enough water to supply almost 3.5 million Southern Californians with enough domestic water for a year or enough produce for 11 billion salads.
Why is this freshwater going to the ocean? Because federal fishery managers were overly concerned that pumping it into storage increased the possibility of harming fish. To be clear, fish weren’t being harmed, and the potential risk to them was minimal at worst. The 2008 and 2009 salmon and Delta smelt biological opinions, or rules, that govern these bureaucratic actions incorporate “triggers” into the decision process that ultimately reduce water supplies to people in favor of fish. No triggers had occurred that would have reduced pumping under the existing rules.
The good news is that these same rules also include sufficient flexibility to allow increased water deliveries to people. The bad news is the bureaucrats refuse to utilize the tools in place to provide more water to millions of people. That flexibility, written to comply with all Endangered Species Act protections, is being ignored, and no one seems able to explain why.
Last April, Gov. Jerry Brown told California’s urban residents to cut aggregate water use by 25 percent. People banded together and met the governor’s mandate, joining with farmers who had already lost up to 100 percent of their surface water supplies. Even with this strong effort, farmers were forced to fallow more fields, and farmworkers stood in food lines because their jobs harvesting the nation’s food supply were gone.
Making matters worse, the salmon and Delta smelt populations haven’t improved. Yet they continue to wallow in a failed, experimental effort that has only resulted in a waste of water that could have otherwise been used by people. Everyone wants a healthy environment but there should be some accountability for the resources we’re literally pouring into the problem.
Things are shaping up for a repeat of all this unless someone gets a handle on the gross mismanagement of the state’s water resources. It seems that only Congress has the power to do something about it. Congress could give explicit direction to water managers to exercise the maximum flexibility under the existing environmental rules. It is possible to protect the environment while giving people fair and equitable access to the water that grows our food and serves our homes and communities.
Mike Wade is executive director, California Farm Water Coalition.
Capital Public Radio
Tricolored Blackbird Moves Toward Endangered Species Designation
By Melody Stone
Tricolored Blackbirds breed in large colonies, sometimes with 20,000 birds all crammed together, maybe a foot or two between each nest. Those large colonies are getting harder to find, as the bird population plummets.
Last December, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned California Department of Fish and Wildlife to consider listing the Tricolored Blackbird as an endangered species. That process requires feedback from the public about the bird’s distribution, abundance and biology.
Neil Clipperton, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says his agency is soliciting information from the public to learn as much as they can about this species. He says they know a lot already and are hoping to learn more.
“Although it’s a blackbird and I think it’s under-respected for that reason, it’s one of the most unique songbirds in North America. Behaviorally it’s the only colonial nesting songbird left in North America,” says Clipperton. “Their socialness and they way they interact in their breeding and the immense density that they nest at is a spectacle you don’t see with any other species.”
At the end of the 19th century the Tricolored Blackbird was described as the most abundant bird species in California. Spanish Explorers thought the sky was filled with smoke from fires, but it was just the birds coming off the wetlands. In 2011 an estimated 258,000 birds lived in California. In 2014 that number slumped to just 145,000 birds, a decline of 44 percent.
“Back in the ’30s there were millions of the bird,” says Michael Lynes, the director of public policy at the California Audubon Society. “It’s really declined very significantly from its historic numbers in California, primarily due to the loss of wetland habitat. We’ve lost 90 to 95 percent of our wetland habitat, which is what this bird relies on.”
Lynes says birds that nest in large colonies like the Tricolored Blackbird risk rapid extinction when their population numbers drop.
“Colonial nesters need to have fairly large numbers in order to maintain a sustainable population over time,” explains Lynes. “Our concern is this population is going to crash in the way the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet did—their numbers just dropped off a cliff and then the bird was extinct.”
Tricolored Blackbirds tend to nest in farm land in the San Joaquin Valley, in the grains dairy farmers grow to feed their cattle.
Paul Sousa with the Western United Dairymen says his organization has worked to protect the bird for more than ten years, with the goal of keeping the bird off of the endangered species list.
“The hope was to protect the bird and keep its numbers up. We want to see the bird thrive, but we want maximum flexibility on our private lands to do our normal farming practices,” says Sousa. “That may be possible, if the bird has a population large enough that it’s not in danger of going extinct.”
In 2014 the federal government paid farmers $370,000 to delay harvesting until after the breeding season. In January The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service gave $1.1 million to Audubon California and dairy farmers to help save the bird.
Lynes says paying farmers to defer their harvests helps, but it’s not a long-term solution.
“Over time the goal would be to create new habitat outside of farms that these birds would use, so they could be sustainable in the long term,” Lynes says.
This month, colonies of Tricolored Blackbirds will settle down to nest in eight to 10 Central Valley farmer’s grain crops. Lynes says the problem is localized.
In the past, farmers have mowed down crops in the middle of the breeding season. If the Tricolored Blackbird is added to the endangered species list this would be expressly illegal.
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Redding Record Searchlight
Group urges residents to consider lawsuit options
By Damon Arthur
While state officials begin mailing out fire prevention fee bills this month, a statewide anti-tax group is asking residents to sign up for a share of a refund should the organization’s lawsuit to stop the fee prevail in court.
Officials with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said residents of rural areas who pay the annual fire prevention fee must file a Petition for Redetermination within 30 days of the date on their bill for a chance at receiving a refund.
The Taxpayers Association sued the state in October 2012 claiming the fire fee is an illegal tax. The state collects about $70 million annually, the association said.
The annual $152.33 bill is sent to residents living in “State Responsibility Areas” where the primary firefighting agency is the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Residents who own property located within a fire protection district receive a $35 discount on their bill.
The association plans to ask the state to refund the money if it wins the court case. A judge last year allowed the association to represent all those who pay the fee. But to be part of the “class” represented by the suit, residents have to file a Petition for Redetermination within 30 days of receiving their bill.
Residents who have already filed petition in past years don’t have to file again, according to the association. Information about filing a petition is available at www.firetaxprotest.org.
Residents can also opt out of the lawsuit, said Lorice Strem, a legal secretary at the association. Opt-out requests can be sent to the association at 921 11th St., 1201, Sacramento, CA 95814, but they must be post-marked by Monday.
Strem said the association has received 15 opt-out notices.
Micah Grant with the California Board of Equalization said 21,719 fire fee bills will be sent out this year to Shasta County residents. The state collects about $3 million a year from county residents.
Board of Equalization member George Runner said he supported the effort to repeal the law.
“Californians who live in rural areas already pay taxes to fund essential fire services,” Runner said in a news release. “It’s a shame this unfair and illegal tax continues to extract dollars from hard working people. The Legislature and governor should repeal it.”
The board sends out fire fee bills alphabetically by the county where a property is located. Bills for Alameda and Alpine counties were mailed out March 1.
Shasta County bills will be mailed May 25-27; Siskiyou County bills are mailed May 27 to June 1; Tehama, June 3 to June 6 and Trinity June 6 and 7.
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