Ag Today Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ag Today
Tuesday, February 23, 2016

 

San Luis Obispo Tribune

Supervisors oppose spending SLO County funds to manage Paso water basin

BY David Sneed

If efforts to form a water management district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin fail, San Luis Obispo County supervisors say they would be very reluctant to spend any county general funds to manage the basin, opening the door for state water officials to step in and oversee the distressed aquifer.

When polled by The Tribune on Monday, all five supervisors also said that it is unlikely that they would support the county trying to get a new Proposition 218 vote on a future ballot to pay for basin management activities. The cost of such an election — in which taxes on property owners are subject to voter approval — is estimated to be $250,000.

“If the voters of the basin decide not to fund the district, it is going to be very tough for me to say let’s go back and try it again,” said Supervisor Frank Mecham, whose district includes the groundwater basin.

Voters and property owners in the 350,000-acre Paso Robles basin are voting on whether to form a management district. There are actually three separate votes: whether to form the district (Measure B), whether to create a parcel tax to fund the district (Measure A), and the election of district board members. Both Measures A and B must pass in order to form the district.

Mail-in ballots went out Feb. 8 and must be returned or postmarked by March 8.

The state has classified the Paso Robles basin to be in critical overdraft, meaning pumping exceeds nature’s ability to replenish it. Water levels have gone down by 100 feet or more in areas east of Paso Robles, causing wells to go dry.

The parcel tax requires the approval of two-thirds of the 6,000 voters in the basin. It is considered the biggest hurdle to the formation of the district. County public works officials have said they do not have the staffing needed to develop a sustainable groundwater management plan and would need supervisors to find a source of funding for that work.

If the district proposal fails, county supervisors would have an opportunity to manage the basin sitting as the Water Conservation and Flood Control District. If the county fails to act, the state would step in and manage the district.

“State intervention happens when local efforts fail, including doing nothing,” said Jessica Bean with the State Water Resources Control Board. “The state will certainly come in under those circumstances.”

If the district fails, the county will need to “step back, take a deep breath, and see where we want to go from there and what other options we have,” Mecham said.

Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson said they would be open to turning management over to the state.

“At the very least we should see what state intervention would look like,” Hill said. “That may be the most drastic way, but it may be necessary. If people are relying on the county to be a backstop, that’s wrong.”

Gibson agreed, saying that the residents and property owners should step up to the plate and manage the basin themselves.

“I am not going to support spending general fund monies,” he said. “If the district fails, I don’t see why the state should not come and manage the basin.”

Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton have both opposed the district’s formation. Compton said she usually errs on the side of not supporting new taxes but would be amenable to the vintners and other growers in the basin forming an irrigation district in which they would decide whether to tax their property to pay for the district.

Irrigation districts are formed solely by property owners who agree to have their land taxed for a specific purpose, and registered voters are not involved. Agriculture will benefit the most and should pay the majority of the cost, Compton said.

“I am not totally opposed to all new taxes, but they would have to make a very good argument, because the majority of the people don’t want a district,” she said.

Arnold said she, too, would be willing to consider an irrigation district as an alternative to the hybrid district on the current ballot. She has also said the county has done a good job of managing the basin and could continue to do so.

State grants may become available to defray the county’s cost of managing the basin, she said.

“There are other funding opportunities available, so I would not be in favor of another Proposition 218 vote,” Arnold said.

David Sneed: 805-781-7930, @davidsneedSLO, dsneed@thetribunenews.com

 

 

Sacramento Bee

Under sunny skies, Folsom Dam operators to double releases

By Ryan Sabalow and Phillip Reese

Even with unseasonably warm temperatures and little to no rain in the forecast for at least the next seven days, the operators of Folsom Dam are going to more than double the flows in the lower American River to protect against flooding.

“We are required to maintain safe space in the reservoir,” said Louis Moore, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Moore said the releases are mandated in Folsom’s nearly 30-year-old manual drawn up by the Army Corps of Engineers. Similar flood-control releases from Folsom this year have drawn criticism from local water agency officials and some hydrology experts.

They say there’s a lack of flexibility in a system that requires dam operators to release water when Folsom Lake rises to a specified height, even if no storms are forecast and the state is trying to maintain stored water supplies in Year Five of a historic drought.

The new releases were particularly irksome for some local water district officials, who learned Monday that regionwide conservation numbers for January – a mere 11 percent – were by far the lowest since the state mandated cuts last summer.

Tom Gray, general manager at the Fair Oaks Water District, said it’s hard to tell customers to keep conserving in a drought when federal dam operators are letting billions of gallons wash out from the very reservoir that supplies much of the region’s water supply.

“I think some of our customers are going to believe we are crying wolf,” Gray said.

Reclamation officials said Monday they’re preparing to increase releases below Nimbus Dam into the lower American River from 3,000 cubic feet per second to around 7,200 cubic feet per second to create space for runoff from Sierra snow. A storm last week – the only significant precipitation in February – dropped more than a foot of snow across much of the Sierra.

Officials say the releases are necessary because the reservoir’s storage is at 131 percent of the 15-year average for late February, and the snowpack in the central Sierra is more than four times greater than at this time last year.

“Should inflows into the reservoir continue at current levels or increase, additional releases may be required,” Reclamation officials said in a statement.

Officials warned that starting at 5 p.m. Monday, they’ll start incrementally increasing flows by 500 cubic feet per second and continue until flows on the lower American River reach 7,200 cfs by 1 a.m. Tuesday.

After two days at this rate, flows will be gradually ramped down, officials say.

The last time Folsom Lake operators released water at a sustained level of 7,000 cfs or more was in late 2012, during the beginning of the drought, state data show. Those releases also were dictated by the flood-control manual, which was last updated in 1987.

Similar operating manuals, all created by the Corps, govern flood-control releases at 54 dams in California. The majority haven’t been updated since at least the 1980s.

Federal officials say the manuals ensure there is ample space in Folsom and other reservoirs to ward against unforeseen floods to protect communities below the dams.

Folsom’s flood-control manual will get its first update in 30 years next year as part of the construction of a $900 million auxiliary spillway. The new gates will be 50 feet lower than the main gates. That would allow for earlier and safer water releases from Folsom Lake during periods of high water, federal officials say.

Officials are discussing the possibility of revising the manual to allow for more forecast-based decisions at Folsom.

But nothing has been decided.

Meanwhile, most of the region’s water districts are under state orders to cut water use by at least 28 percent from June 2015 through February 2016 or face penalties.

They have largely succeeded. From June through December, the city of Sacramento achieved 31 percent savings; the Sacramento County Water Agency cut use by 37 percent and the city of Roseville reduced use by 36 percent, state figures show.

The 11 percent figure for January released by the Sacramento Regional Water Authority on Monday suggests the effort may be slipping. Previously, the lowest conservation savings were in December, when the region cut its use by 26 percent.

Water officials say it’s harder to conserve water in the winter than in the summer because there’s less need to water lawns, so residents can’t just shut off their sprinklers to save a large amount of water. Instead, they must try to achieve savings through smaller, indoor efforts such as taking shorter showers or reducing toilet flushes.

The weather also likely contributed to the low savings. It rained more than five inches in Sacramento during January, convincing some residents that the urgent need to conserve water was fading. Gray, general manager at the Fair Oaks Water District, said three factors contributed to the lower savings in January: the challenges of conserving water in the winter; the reports of heavy January snow in the Sierra and news that water operators at Folsom Dam had started making large water releases from a rising Folsom Lake.

“You put those three together, it’s a new hardship on the districts,” he said.

Amy Talbot, water efficiency program manager at Regional Water Authority, said lower water-use reductions weren’t surprising given the season.

“With limited opportunities to further reduce water use outdoors, people have to squeeze their savings from indoor conservation, which is a much more difficult task,” she said. “In spite of that challenge, residents continued to conserve.”

While January was a gusher of rain and snow, February has so far been a disappointment, particularly after the hyped announcements that one of strongest El Niño weather patterns in recent history should be dumping precipitation around this time.

Usually one of the wettest months of the year, February has been characterized by warm days in the 70s and blue skies. The average rainfall in February is 3.82 inches in the Sacramento area. But as of Monday – with just a week left in the month – only 0.85 inches had fallen.

Gray, the Fair Oaks water manager, said federal dam operators ought to have the flexibility to change their playbook during such unseasonable conditions.

“I would think the operators – if they would just look at the forecast,” he said, “they perhaps would move away from normal operations.”

The Bee’s Bill Lindelof contributed to this story.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow, rsabalow@sacbee.com

 

 

San Jose Mercury News

Santa Clara County taking fresh look at saving farmland

By Eric Kurhi

MORGAN HILL — Andy Mariani knows the days of his beloved “Andy’s Orchard” farm are numbered.

Since his family moved its operation to Morgan Hill from Cupertino — selling a parcel in 1957 that’s now across the street from Apple headquarters — he’s seen development creep in from all sides. What was once 50 acres in the middle of a couple dozen other farming operations is now an island of stone-fruit agriculture, with Mariani as one of the area’s last holdouts.

“We are the remnants, the last couple of dinosaurs after a mass extinction,” said Mariani, 70. “There’s a natural incompatibility between agriculture and urban use and how can you resolve that? You can’t. It has to go one way or the other and the scales were tipped the other way a long time ago.”

But customers adore his farm, and green space advocates stress the importance of hanging on to the vestiges of the county’s historic farmland.

On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will consider launching an ambitious regional plan aimed at preserving agriculture in what was once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight for its bounty of fruits and vegetables.

The idea is to create a policy framework to prevent the piecemeal development of South County farmland. The county plans to join forces with San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy and regional stakeholders.

The proposal, the result of a partnership with the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, is the result of a $100,000 grant awarded by the California Strategic Growth Council. County Planning Director Kirk Girard said coming up with the framework should enable the county to get more financial assistance in securing land.

“What we see on the horizon is the state potentially investing in agricultural protection and we want to be ready and competitive if funds are made available,” Girard said. “Jurisdictions that use a combination of regulatory rules and economic incentives are usually more successful in preserving land than those with just regulations.”

According to a county report, 45 percent of Santa Clara County farmland was converted to other uses between 1984 and 2000. Roughly 1,000 acres were lost between 2008 and 2010. Green space advocates say 55 percent of the remaining 20,000 acres is at risk of development.

Morgan Hill is currently eyeing more than 200 acres for a sports and recreation hub, and in San Jose, a warehouse and distribution facility has been proposed on 30 acres in North Coyote Valley.

A recently approved Gilroy master development of 4,000 homes north of city limits has been temporarily shelved by the landowner after public outcry, but it will be back.

Jeremy Madsen, CEO of the San Francisco-based Greenbelt Alliance preservation group, said the Gilroy and Coyote Valley proposals illustrate the need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

“There are a lot of developers who are thinking about this the right way, with projects near transit so people have different options,” he said. “But there are still some who want to build for 1980 instead of 2016.”

Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who represents the South County area that accounts for the lion’s share of Silicon Valley farmland, said they will be looking at what current controls are in place and what could be brought to the table.

“I’ve heard of clustering homes, I’ve heard of mitigation, and there are policies already in place,” he said. “We generally agree that farmland is important, but the population is not going to stop growing and we need to look at ways to accommodate that growth and still preserve agricultural land.”

First on the to-do list is identifying potential plots to preserve. That might prioritize sites that are still in the thick of remaining agricultural lands, while other areas that have already seen development surround them — such as Andy’s Orchard — might not be as beneficial to hang on to. Then a committee of stakeholders including farming interests would analyze what kind of policies could be implemented to save prime tracts.

Jeff Martin, who owns land north of Gilroy that was included in the 721-acre proposal there, saw the development plan criticized in the local media and by a host of residents who said it was far too ambitious. But Martin maintains that the Local Agency Formation Commission that oversees development in the interest of controlling sprawl decided back in the 1980s that expansion to the north was appropriate.

“I was here in 1984 when they produced this thing,” he said of the growth plan. “We have policies but people forget about these things. Do we really need to establish new ones? It sounds like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Girard said that it will be ultimately be up to property owners to sell their land for preservation, and the hope is that state funds would sweeten the pot to be competitive with what they could get otherwise.

Mariani, who owns Andy’s Orchard along with two older siblings, said he barely gets by selling mainly to a niche heirloom varietal market. His farm has tasted some fame, appearing in Sunset Magazine and other publications, and he often has folks tell him that he can’t quit — the resource he provides is too valuable. But Mariani knows what he’s doing is becoming less and less viable.

“I’m going to stay here as long as I can,” said Mariani, who worked for Saratoga as assistant city manager for a spell before hanging up a job he hated and returning to the farm and his roots. “But I’m a dirt farmer. I’m not a CEO or a professional who came here to plant a vineyard and have a tax write-off if it’s not profitable. This land is all I have. It’s my 401(k) plan. It’s my retirement.”

Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi. ekurhi@mercurynews.com

 

 

Ukiah Daily Journal

Tule Elk in Mendocino County causing problems for ranchers

By Adam Randall

Tule Elk continue to test local ranchers’ patience, and now Mendocino County is hoping to do something about it.

These animals are popping up in large groups and have been seen in Round Valley, Long Valley, Laytonville, Willits, the coast and Potter Valley where one rancher said he estimates 300 are roaming between two groups.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which in the past has planted the protected species in different regions of the state to strengthen the herds, last estimated, in 2007, the population of elk throughout the state to be around 4,000.

Spearheading the local population containment effort is 1st District Supervisor Carre Brown, who also hopes to encourage ranchers to work within programs offered by the DFW to at least try to thin the elk herds.

Brown, a Potter Valley rancher herself, says she’ll continue working with the state’s elected officials, the DFW and ranchers on options to get rid of the elk going forward.

“Most of the ranchers want to see the herds managed,” Brown said.

Complaints by ranchers include that the herds cause accidents when crossing county roads, eat up all the ranchers’ vegetation, destroy fences and strip grape vines. Brown said there is also concern about disease being spread to local livestock. Besides general competition with the elk for vegetation on their lands, ranchers often irrigate their lands to grow grass for their cows that the elk are now eating.

Mac Magruder, Potter Valley rancher, couldn’t be reached by phone Monday as he was out tending his property, but told the General Government standing committee of Brown and Supervisor Dan Gjerde earlier this month that he predicts in 10 years there could be 1,000 elk in the valley if nothing is done.

He said the estimated 300 elk in Potter Valley right now have seemed to have split into two groups in recent years, with 150 taking the east side of the valley, and the other 150 migrating to the west.

“Elk impacts me very, very greatly,” Magruder told the committee. “There is no mechanism at this point to control these animals.”

Magruder said the elk are coming off the dry hills and down into the irrigated pastures. He estimated it would cost him at least $200,000 to fence the elk out of his property.

However, fencing the animals either in or out of a particular area hasn’t ultimately been successful in some areas, Magruder pointed out to the committee.

In Point Reyes, where another significant elk population exists, the National Park Service there noted that between 2012 and 2014, 250 Tule Elk died inside a fenced-in area at Pierce Point Elk Preserve within the Point Reyes National Seashore. The deaths were mainly attributed to a lack of water.

Officials with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national science-based advocacy group, have since said elk need free range to roam in order to have access to water and food.

Further efforts by the state Fish and Game Commission to allow for a small increase in hunting tags for Tule Elk have since been derailed by animal advocates, Brown said Monday.

Even though Tule Elk are a protected species in California, hunting permits are granted during yearly seasons to help manage the herds.

According to 2014 DFW kill statistics of hunted elk, the most recent year available, of the 36 antlerless elk hunting permits for Mendocino County hunting areas, 50 percent were successful in killing an elk. Likewise, 126 permits for bull elk had a 100 percent success rate among hunters. Under state rules, two tags are granted to successful applicants for taking two antlerless and two bull elk each during hunting periods.

Lake Pillsbury, which is considered a separate hunting area, allows four tags for antlerless hunters. In 2014, 178 sought after permits drove a 100 percent success rate in bagging an elk. Two tags were available for Pillsbury bull elk, with 654 permit applicants having a 100 percent success rate, according to the DFW.

Among the DFW programs offered, of which Brown hopes to make local ranchers more aware, includes the Private Lands Management program, which gives landowners incentives to manage their lands to benefit wildlife. Landowners who take part in the PLM, which in the past was known as “ranching for wildlife,” receive assistance from DFW biologists in improving their land habitats that may include providing water sources, planting native plants for food, and may even include expanded hunting seasons and bag limits solely for their property, according to the DFW. There are currently 101 PLM managed properties statewide.

Also, the DFW offers “SHARE,” which provides incentives to landowners to allow hunting and fishing on private lands to further control species.

Not every local rancher feels these programs to be particularly helpful, however.

In a January 2015 letter to the Daily Journal, Terry Proschold and 24 other Round Valley ranchers in Covelo said the once 12 to 15 elk in their area have now ballooned to 100.

“We can’t afford to feed the elk and our cows at the same time,” he wrote.

Proschold and other ranchers said then they don’t consider the PLM program to be a viable option as it would require considerable effort, time and resources they don’t have.

The Covelo ranchers would like to see the non-native elk be removed from their properties altogether, but were apparently told that wasn’t a viable option.

Brown said she hopes at the very least to have a representative from the DFW at the next General Government standing committee meeting on March 21 to speak on existing programs that may be available to help ranchers, and to talk about what can be done to manage the elk.

Ultimately, the standing committee will bring an agenda item before the full Board of Supervisors requesting approval to move forward in working with local landowners that are being impacted by the Tule Elk.

“The Tule Elk pose horrific health and safety issues on our county roads and streets,” Brown said. “It’s just not acceptable to me.”

udjar@ukiahdj.com, @theadamrandall

 

 

Sacramento Business Journal

Why Placer County ranchers want a local slaughterhouse

By Mark Anderson

Placer County livestock producers are exploring a possible meat-processing plant near Sheridan.

Using a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $50,000 from Placer County, the ranchers will study the feasibility of such a plant, targeted at cattle, pork and potentially other livestock. Placer County signed the agreement Monday to explore the slaughterhouse, said Chris Gray-Garcia, spokesman with Placer County.

The idea is to put together a cooperative to process locally grown livestock. The closest locations currently in operation that can offer certified USDA-inspected certification are far away.

“Right now, our ranchers have to go as far as Reno or Orland to have their livestock processed, only to have to import it back to the county to sell on the local market,” said Josh Huntsinger, Placer County agricultural commissioner, in a news release. “By building a local facility, we’re improving economic opportunities for local agriculture, creating jobs and improving farm-to-table access to high-quality, locally-raised meat for Placer residents.”

The business plan is expected to be completed this summer, with a decision on whether to move ahead with the slaughterhouse soon after, Gray-Garcia said.

The group of cattle producers is organized as the Sierra Foothills Meat Co., with members including meat producers along with assistance from Placer County and the University of California Cooperative Extension for Placer and Nevada counties.

The Sierra Foothills Meat Company is looking at a boutique operation that would create about a dozen jobs and process between 1,000 and 3,000 animals annually, compared to some of the big national processors that move tens of thousands of animals through the plants every day.

“Placer County has a great group of livestock producers, and I believe the facility would be a great addition to help expand our current market,” said Karin Sinclair, Sierra Foothills Meat Co. president, in a news release from Placer County. “We are so fortunate to have the fresh produce and products right here in Placer County, and adding local meat would hopefully encourage more producers to take part in supplying their products for local purchase.”

The county is seeking a minimal environmental footprint from the slaughterhouse. The stock yard would be used just a single day before slaughter.

 

 

KGET – TV, Bakersfield

Decline in bee population makes beehives hot targets for thieves

By Mario Montalvo

SHAFTER, Calif. – If you’ve traveled in rural Kern County, you may have noticed white boxes on the side of the road near almond orchards.

They’re bee hives, and according to the California State Beekeepers Association, more than 1,000 have been stolen statewide in the last few months. About 200 were lost right here in Kern County.

“There has been an increase in bees thefts,” said bee inspector Alan Townsend.

Kern County Farm Bureau executive director Beatris Sanders said a decline in bee population has made them a hot commodity and driven up the price farmers pay to rent them.

“As a robber or thief, you see this as a pretty high-value theft,” Sanders said.

The stolen boxes rent for $180 per season each. Multiplied by 200, that equals a $36,000 loss in Kern County. And that’s only lost income and doesn’t count the cost of the actual boxes.

Sheriff’s Department rural crimes investigator Corey Stacy said thefts like this one are nothing new, but it is the largest.

“We’ve dealt with this just about every year,” Stacy said. “It seems like it had leveled off over the last year or so, but now that the pollination process for the almonds and all that stuff is going to start, it’s probably going to increase.”

Once stolen, Stacy said they can be transported anywhere in the country which makes these crimes very difficult to track.

It’s become such a problem that some beekeepers are going high-tech to protect their hives.

“Beekeepers are doing more and law enforcement is doing more,” Townsend said. “We’re probably going to be putting some kind of tracking devices on some of these hives.”

The California State Beekeepers Association offers a reward up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone stealing CSBA members’ bees or equipment.

If you have any information relating to bee thefts call the Sheriff’s Department at 661-861-3110., mariomontalvo@kget.com