Ag Today Thursday, March 26, 2015

Senate approves $1 billion water plan amid drought [Associated Press]

The state Senate on Wednesday approved a $1 billion proposal to speed up spending on water projects and offer some relief to residents and wildlife in drought-stricken California. The Senate voted 35-1 on a bill accelerating infrastructure spending, including $660 million on flood protection. An accompanying measure that authorized fines for illegal water diversions passed on a 24-14 party-line vote, with Republicans opposed….The emergency legislation also cracks down on water-guzzling marijuana farms by authorizing state fish and wildlife officials to fine growers up to $8,000 for illegally taking water….Republican lawmakers raised concerns about growing government and the potential for farmers also facing fines. “Every time we do one of these emergency bills what we really do is expand the authority of the government,” said Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte.
$700 an acre-foot, but will water be sold? [Marysville Appeal-Democrat]
Southern California water agencies are reportedly offering up to $71 million for Northern California water, but until local water allocations are final, it’s not known how much, if any, Yuba-Sutter water will be sent south. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is the major buyer, and local rice farmers would be the main willing sellers of the proposed transfers…. That has raised concerns about impacts to the local economy, as agriculture props up a number of supporting industries. But many irrigation districts cap the amount of water that can be transferred, and others have a no-fallowing policy, both of which mitigate potential economic impacts. Beyond those constraints, anticipated cuts in the water supply from the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project could halt the proposed transfers altogether, said Jim Morris, spokesman for the California Rice Commission.
Op-Ed: Why almond growers aren’t the water enemy [Los Angeles Times]
A quarter-century ago, when I first started farming the fertile ground of western Fresno County, my crop was cotton….We were portrayed, with some justification, as the greedy farmers of Fresno’s west side. So my farming partner and I decided in 1989 to plant our first almond trees on 40 acres outside Coalinga….But now we’re the bad guys again. Article after article in newspapers, magazines and online put nut growers in a bad light related to the drought. The whole equation seems to be reduced to a single number wielded by our critics: It takes one gallon of water to grow one nut. Boy, that sounds wasteful. It’s a figure designed to outrage, and it does the trick. But looking at the societal value of producing food only by gallons of water used is silly, if not absurd.
Commission rejects cities’ demands, OKs farmland formula [Modesto Bee]
The fight against urban sprawl notched a narrow victory Wednesday, despite objections from seven of Stanislaus County’s nine cities. The 3-2 vote by leaders of a growth-guiding agency simply defined one way cities can choose to help preserve farmland, but was seen by cities as an affront to their land-use authority. The decision set a formula for figuring how much money cities can charge developers when paving over farmland for houses or other buildings. The money can be banked to eventually buy farm conservation easements somewhere else in the county, preserving one agricultural acre for each one developed.
Agency takes public comment on forest plan [Redding Record Searchlight]
U.S. Forest Service officials have decided to do things backward in updating the Northwest Forest Plan. Typically, when the Forest Service draws up management plans it creates a draft and then asks the public to comment on it. But this time, this time the agency wants to hear from the public what needs to be updated in the plan, why and what it should do differently, as well as anything else that should be considered, said Randy Moore, the Forest Service’s regional forester for California….The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994 to protect critical habitat of the northern spotted owl while also trying to maintain a viable forest products industry in the Pacific Northwest, according to the Forest Service….California national forests affected by the plan include the Shasta-Trinity, Lassen, Klamath, Six Rivers, Modoc and Mendocino.
Comment: Bring on the guest workers [Wall Street Journal]
Of all the words in the English language, none are more debilitating for Republican debate than these four: “a path to citizenship.”…So if citizenship is the sticking point, why not start with something that by definition is not about citizenship: guest workers?…In general, objections to guest workers boil down to two. The first comes from organized labor, which traditionally opposes any opening to nonunionized workers….As for abuses, there is a simple fix: If guest worker visas no longer held them hostage to a single employer—if they could switch to another job with another approved employer—employers would have a far greater incentive to treat them right….The other general objection to guest workers emanates from the conservative side: Some just don’t want anyone coming in under any circumstances….Guest workers who could go back and forth across the border freely would have little incentive to overstay their visas or sneak in their families as those here illegally now do.
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