Drought, Higher Food Prices

That’s the point in this article from Channel 10, but the larger question is why public leadership in our state has not added more water storage to deal with the dry years by storing more from the wet years; and in our case—Sacramento being the 1st or 2nd most susceptible to flooding in the entire country—the answer is to build Auburn Dam, which would double our flood protection in addition to the extra water.

An excerpt from the Channel 10 article.

“SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California shoppers may notice food prices rising at grocery stores across the state, reflecting national trends.

“Experts say it’s part of the continued economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but growers in the Central Valley now face added pressure thanks to the California drought.

“That’s a major cost,” said Dan Best, coordinator for Certified Farmer’s Market in Sacramento. “And if you can’t afford [water] you don’t farm.”

“Snowpack statewide is only at 59% of its April 1 average, based on electronic measurements according to the California Department of Water Resources. Farmers in the Central Valley producing water-intensive crops such as almonds and tomatoes are already facing some difficult choices. 

“It’s really serious, particularly in the Central Valley,” said UC-Davis Agricultural Economist Daniel Sumner. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Price Outlook shows prices of staple foods such as meats, poultry, and fish as well as fruits and vegetables outpacing the 20-year historical averages. 

“According to Sumner, that can be attributed in part to rising fuel and labor costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The drought may not cause prices to rise in the near term, but shoppers could feel the impact in the coming months.

“The cost of water, the scarcity of water adds into all the costs of food throughout the system,” Sumner said. 

“Some Central Valley farms could lose money this year irrigating fruit-bearing trees in order for them to survive to another harvest next year. 

“We’re very fortunate in this area that we are surrounded by agriculture,” Best said, adding that he hopes local consumers will continue to support their local growers.

Retrieved April 19, 2021 from California drought adds pressure on Central Valley farmers | abc10.com

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Need Desal Plants

A big yes to that, which is the point of this article from the Orange County Register.

An excerpt.

“Gavin Newsom this week traveled to Lake Oroville to sign a half-billion-dollar wildfire prevention bill. During his press conference, he pointed to falling water levels at the reservoir and noted that drought conditions increase the wildfire risk. The governor promised “many different announcements” regarding the looming water crisis, as news reports note.

“We eagerly await those coming announcements, but urge Newsom to make one in particular. He has long supported a desalination project at the site of a former electrical plant on the Huntington Beach coast. He needs to publicly reiterate his support – and oppose a plan to saddle it with permitting conditions that render its financing infeasible.

“Next Friday, the agency charged with issuing permits, the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board, will hold a hearing. Project supporters are worried about a draft permit that includes an unprecedented and unreasonable staff recommendation – that the developer, Poseidon Water, begin operation only after it receives state permits for environmental mitigation projects.

“For instance, Poseidon will undertake a dredging project related to Bolsa Chica wetlands and create a 40-acre artificial reef off the coast. It can take years to get final permits for such projects – and many more to complete them. If Poseidon delays operations until then, that would endanger the project and deprive Californians of years of reliable water.

“In the good-news front, a California Court of Appeal last week upheld the plant’s approval by the State Lands Commission. However, unless the water board issues a reasonable permit, the project will still face untenable delays.

“Sierra Nevada snowpack is only 59 percent of expected this season. Water levels have fallen to 50 percent in the state’s reservoirs. 92 percent of California is facing at least a moderate drought.

“Desalination isn’t the only solution to these perilous drought conditions, but it can handle some of the shortfall. A similar plant in Carlsbad can meet 9 percent of San Diego County’s water needs.”

Retrieved April 15, 2021 from Coming drought should prod OK of desal plant – Orange County Register (ocregister.com)

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Precision Ag Technology

It is creating some very good outcomes, as reported by The Farmer.

An excerpt.

“Farmers make huge investments in precision ag technology for various reasons. To improve profitability and yields is key.

“Environmental benefits also come into play as consumption of chemicals, fuel, fertilizer and energy is decreased.

“Farmers make huge investments in precision ag technology for various reasons. To improve profitability and yields is key.

“Environmental benefits also come into play as consumption of chemicals, fuel, fertilizer and energy is decreased.

“To provide a baseline in quantifying environmental benefits of U.S. precision agriculture, a new study conducted by four agricultural organization looked at the impact of selected precision ag technologies on productivity and use of fossil fuel, water, fertilizer and herbicide.

“The study was shared during a virtual session March 4 at Commodity Classic. Representatives of the organizations that partnered on the study offered a panel discussion. They were Curt Blades with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Kellie Bray with CropLife America, Nicole Hasheider with the National Corn Growers Association, and Ariel Wiegard with the American Soybean Association.

“The study looked at five precision ag technologies — autoguidance, machine section control, variable rate, machine and fleet analytics, and precision irrigation. It also considered a range of crops — corn, soybeans, cotton, peanuts, wheat, sorghum, tubers, sugarbeets, hay and alfalfa.

“Here is a synopsis of the panel discussion.

“Productivity. Over the last 18 years, growth in yields has coincided with widespread adoption of precision ag technologies, Wiegard said. Productivity has increased an estimated 4% overall with current precision ag adoption. With broader adoption by farmers, productivity could increase another 6%. As productivity increases, land for production decreases. Higher productivity and precision ag adoption could save an estimated 10.2 million acres from cultivation.

“Fertilizer. As farmers followed the 4R’s of nutrient management — applying the right source at the right rate, right time and right place — efficiencies increased. One example Bray cited is how a central Illinois family farm, on average, decreased fertilizer costs per acre by $67 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15%.

“Precision ag technologies have improved fertilizer efficiency by 7% and have the potential to improve efficiencies to 14% with broader adoption.

“Herbicide. Herbicide use has been reduced by an estimated 9% with current improved precision ag practices. It could be reduced another 15% with greater precision ag adoption, Bray said.

“An estimated 30 million pounds of herbicide was avoided due to the adoption of precision ag technologies,” she said. “An estimated 48 million pounds of additional herbicide could be avoided with broader adoption.”

“Fossil fuels. Fossil fuel use has declined an estimated 6% with current precision ag adoption, and it has the potential to further be lowered 16% at full precision ag adoption. That’s an estimated 100 million gallons of fossil fuel not used — or roughly the equivalent of 93,000 cars off the road or 18,000 flights annually, Bray said.”

Retrieve April 9, 2021 from The precision ag payoff (farmprogress.com)

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Removing Toxic Forever Chemicals

Overdue, but good news, from the Environmental Working Group.

An excerpt.

“SACRAMENTO, Calif. – State legislation that would ban the toxic “forever chemicals” called PFAS from plant-based food packaging passed out of the California Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on Wednesday.

Assembly Bill 1200, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would also require manufacturers to label cookware that contains toxic chemicals, and to publish on their websites a list of those chemicals present in their pots and pans.

“PFAS are a large group of chemicals that cause increased risk of cancerharm to fetal development and reduced vaccine effectiveness. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and they build up in our blood and organs.

“California joins other states in reducing PFAS exposure from food and food packaging.

“In 2018, Washington was the first state to ban the use of PFAS in food packaging, a law that takes effect at the first of next year. Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a ban on PFAS in paper- and plant-based food packaging, which will take effect at the end of next year. The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 also bans the use of PFAS in food packaging for military meals after October 1. 

“Food is a major source of exposure to PFAS,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. “In addition to PFAS leaching from food packaging into food, farmers may inadvertently contaminate their crop fields with PFAS when irrigating with contaminated groundwater or from compost.”

“The bill also prohibits cookware companies from making marketing claims that products are PFAS-free.

“PFAS are used in nonstick coatings for cookware and bakeware, and are released into air when the pots, pans and baking sheets reach high temperatures,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “Products that claim to be produced without PFOA, the PFAS chemical that once was used to make DuPont’s Teflon, are often coated with another form of PFAS. This bill prevents companies from claiming a product is free of PFOA if another chemical in the same family is present.”

“In 2017, an EWG report based on nationwide testing found many fast food chains used food wrappers, bags and boxes coated with PFAS.

“Scientists from nonprofit research organizations including EWG, federal and state regulatory agencies, and academic institutions collaborated to collect and test samples of sandwich and pastry wrappers, french fry bags, pizza boxes, and other paper and paperboard products from 27 fast food chains and several local restaurants in five regions of the U.S.

“The researchers found that of the 327 samples used to serve food, 40 percent tested positive for fluorine, a chemical that indicates the presence of PFAS. A peer-reviewed study was also published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

“In November 2017, two of the most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, the Teflon chemical, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard – were added to California Proposition 65’s list of chemicals known to the state to cause reproductive toxicity. The state already requires Proposition 65 warnings on products that may expose consumers to PFOA or PFOS.”

Retrieved April 9, 2021 from Calif. bill would ban toxic ‘forever chemicals’ from food packaging | Environmental Working Group (ewg.org)

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Woman found dead in Parkway

Article from MSN News.

An excerpt.

“A woman was found dead on the American River Bike Trail in Sacramento on Saturday, April 10.

“The Sacramento Police Department said that they got a call at around 3:40 p.m. that a woman appeared to be dead on the trail near mile marker three. When officers got to the area, they found the woman with injuries that could be from an assault. Sacramento Fire Department officials declared her dead at the scene.

“Homicide detectives from the Sacramento Police Department are looking for possible witnesses and evidence to try to figure out what happened to the woman. They do not have a suspect yet and are not yet releasing the identity of the victim.

“Investigators believe the victim was experiencing homelessness and was staying in an encampment in the area near the American River Bike Trail.”

Retrieved April 11, 2021 from Woman found dead on American River Bike Trail (msn.com)

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Repurposing the Central Valley

Parts of it anyway, as this article from the Fresno Bee reports, a very interesting concept, especially if other more water rich areas of the country can take up the resulting agricultural slack.

An excerpt.

“The Central Valley has reached a critical juncture.

“On one path, without proactive, collaborative planning, the Valley could become a haphazard patchwork of dusty fields infested with invasive weeds and pests, further impairing already poor air quality, devastating the agricultural economy and putting many farmworkers out of work.

“On another path, the Valley can remain a thriving agricultural region amid a mosaic of new land uses, like vibrant habitat corridors for the endangered San Joaquin kit fox or wildlife-friendly groundwater recharge areas for migratory birds or outdoor recreational green spaces for families.

“A bill that on Thursday unanimously passed out of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife can help move the Valley down this second, more resilient path.

“Introduced by Assemblymembers Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), AB 252 will help ease the Valley’s transition to sustainable groundwater use and open the door to exciting new opportunities.

“In 2014, the Legislature passed the historic Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the most sweeping change to California water law in a century. Commonly referred to as SGMA (pronounced “sigma”), this law was passed to address decades of groundwater overpumping, which caused significant impacts. During the last drought, overpumping caused land to sink and damaged roads and canals, dried up community drinking water wells, and de-watered wetlands.

“The implementation of SGMA is critically important to build long-term water sustainability for the Central Valley and will require a variety of tools and approaches to succeed.

“One unfortunate reality of adjusting to increased water scarcity is that a significant amount of the state’s irrigated agricultural land — potentially the size of Yosemite National Park — will need to shift to less water-intensive agriculture or be taken out of production over the next couple decades. This will undoubtedly be challenging and will be exacerbated by more frequent droughts — like what we’re now experiencing — that will put additional strain on limited water supplies.

“AB 252 will create the Multi-benefit Land Repurposing Incentive Program to compensate farmers who voluntarily re-purpose some of their previously irrigated land to create new uses that Valley communities need and want. Benefits could include water sustainability, habitat corridors for wildlife, and open space and recreational areas. Importantly, this program can also provide incentives to landowners to make the changes necessary to comply with SGMA sooner and in a way that minimizes economic and social impacts.”

Retrieved April 9, 2021 from California legislation would help drought-stressed farmers | The Fresno Bee

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Groundwater Recharging

Some very good news on this important subject from the University of California San Diego.

An excerpt.

“Groundwater is a key resource for water users in California’s Central Valley, a major agricultural hub with an economic output of tens of billions of dollars annually. Surface deformation in the Central Valley has long been linked to changes in groundwater storage, but the timing and movement of water flow beneath the surface has been poorly understood due to a lack of reliable data. 

“Now, for the first time, scientists at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and School of Global Policy and Strategy, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey are using advanced satellite data to map the “pulse” of groundwater flow through the San Joaquin Valley, the southern portion of the Central Valley.

“In a new study published April 7 in Water Resources Research, the interdisciplinary researchers describe how recent advances in remote sensing have enabled the detailed mapping of surface deformation in the San Joaquin Valley and associated changes in groundwater resources. 

“The study is the first to look at where and when the groundwater in the region is being recharged—a process in which surface water moves downward through the soil and shallow rocks, eventually being added to underground stores called aquifers. This recharge causes the surface to rise, as the aquifer swells due to the increased volume of stored water. 

“The findings are particularly timely as California implements its Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to better understand and protect its groundwater resources. 

“Studying groundwater movement is like a black box—we’re trying to get any kind of information about what’s happening to the water beneath the surface,” said Wesley Neely, a PhD candidate at Scripps Oceanography and lead author of the study. “The dataset we’re looking at in this study is helping us fill in some of the gaps, and now we’re able to map the signature of groundwater flow through the Central Valley at policy-relevant scales.” 

“Based on satellite observations, the earth’s surface height in the Central Valley changes by plus or minus 2.75 inches as underground water levels increase and decrease throughout the year. During drought, the ground in the region can sink by up to 13.7 inches per year. 

“The novel observations were made using satellite-based InSAR (interferometric synthetic aperture radar) from the Sentinel-1 missions and continuous Global Positioning System (cGPS) data. The researchers used the satellite observations of movement in the earth’s surface to visualize the movement of water in the subsurface, efficiently mapping an important geophysical process that is otherwise difficult and costly to observe.

“This research is significant because the findings give us a new tool to document and understand change in connected surface and groundwater systems,” said study co-author Morgan Levy, an assistant professor with a joint appointment at UC San Diego’s Scripps Oceanography and School of Global Policy and Strategy. 

“This work builds upon a recent study by Levy and other UC San Diego researchers who used satellite-based imaging to monitor subsidence, or sinking, in the Central Valley, which can occur when large amounts of groundwater are removed from aquifers. 

“The San Joaquin Valley is a sedimentary basin, composed of gravel intermixed with layers of clay and silt, with pockets of water tucked between grains of this material. As water is taken out of the system, the resulting change in pressure can lead to the grains collapsing on top of each other, which could result in permanent subsidence, a major concern for the region. 

“It’s kind of like a house of cards falling down,” said Neely. “Once a collapse happens, it can be very difficult to open up that space again.”

“However, looking at the satellite data from 2016, a dry year, and 2017, a wet year, Neely found some specific regions in the San Joaquin Valley where uplift of the surface suggests pathways for aquifer recharge—where and when surface water enters into groundwater reservoirs.

“The radar’s view of the region provided Neely and collaborators with the opportunity to build a time series of images that could be studied in detail. “Rather than focusing on the large subsidence signal from groundwater extraction, the researchers investigated the seasonal signal that was hiding in the time series. The seasonal signal provides information about when and where a point on the ground has a relative peak uplift in any given year, which translates to a peak groundwater level at that point.” 

Retrieved April 8, 2021 from Scientists Map “Pulse” of Groundwater Flow through California’s Central Valley (ucsd.edu)

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Are Plants Smart?

Gardeners say yes, and this fascinating article from Aeon Magazine adds a lot to the argument.

An excerpt.

“At first glance, the Cornish mallow (Lavatera cretica) is little more than an unprepossessing weed. It has pinkish flowers and broad, flat leaves that track sunlight throughout the day. However, it’s what the mallow does at night that has propelled this humble plant into the scientific spotlight. Hours before the dawn, it springs into action, turning its leaves to face the anticipated direction of the sunrise. The mallow seems to remember where and when the Sun has come up on previous days, and acts to make sure it can gather as much light energy as possible each morning. When scientists try to confuse mallows in their laboratories by swapping the location of the light source, the plants simply learn the new orientation.

“What does it even mean to say that a mallow can learn and remember the location of the sunrise? The idea that plants can behave intelligently, let alone learn or form memories, was a fringe notion until quite recently. Memories are thought to be so fundamentally cognitive that some theorists argue that they’re a necessary and sufficient marker of whether an organism can do the most basic kinds of thinking. Surely memory requires a brain, and plants lack even the rudimentary nervous systems of bugs and worms.

“However, over the past decade or so this view has been forcefully challenged. The mallow isn’t an anomaly. Plants are not simply organic, passive automata. We now know that they can sense and integrate information about dozens of different environmental variables, and that they use this knowledge to guide flexible, adaptive behaviour.

“For example, plants can recognise whether nearby plants are kin or unrelated, and adjust their foraging strategies accordingly. The flower Impatiens pallida, also known as pale jewelweed, is one of several species that tends to devote a greater share of resources to growing leaves rather than roots when put with strangers – a tactic apparently geared towards competing for sunlight, an imperative that is diminished when you are growing next to your siblings. Plants also mount complex, targeted defences in response to recognising specific predators. The small, flowering Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as thale or mouse-ear cress, can detect the vibrations caused by caterpillars munching on it and so release oils and chemicals to repel the insects.

“Plants also communicate with one another and other organisms, such as parasites and microbes, using a variety of channels – including ‘mycorrhizal networks’ of fungus that link up the root systems of multiple plants, like some kind of subterranean internet. Perhaps it’s not really so surprising, then, that plants learn and use memories for prediction and decision-making.

“What does learning and memory involve for a plant? An example that’s front and centre of the debate is vernalisation, a process in which certain plants must be exposed to the cold before they can flower in the spring. The ‘memory of winter’ is what helps plants to distinguish between spring (when pollinators, such as bees, are busy) and autumn (when they are not, and when the decision to flower at the wrong time of year could be reproductively disastrous).

“In the biologists’ favourite experimental plant, A thaliana, a gene called FLC produces a chemical that stops its little white blooms from opening. However, when the plant is exposed to a long winter, the by-products of other genes measure the length of time it has been cold, and close down or repress the FLC in an increasing number of cells as the cold persists. When spring comes and the days start to lengthen, the plant, primed by the cold to have low FLC, can now flower. But to be effective, the anti-FLC mechanism needs an extended chilly spell, rather than shorter periods of fluctuating temperatures.

“This involves what’s called epigenetic memory. Even after vernalised plants are returned to warm conditions, FLC is kept low via the remodelling of what are called chromatin marks. These are proteins and small chemical groups that attach to DNA within cells and influence gene activity. Chromatin remodelling can even be transmitted to subsequent generations of divided cells, such that these later produced cells ‘remember’ past winters. If the cold period has been long enough, plants with some cells that never went through a cold period can still flower in spring, because the chromatin modification continues to inhibit the action of FLC.

“But is this really memory? Plant scientists who study ‘epigenetic memory’ will be the first to admit that it’s fundamentally different from the sort of thing studied by cognitive scientists. Is this use of language just metaphorical shorthand, bridging the gap between the familiar world of memory and the unfamiliar domain of epigenetics? Or do the similarities between cellular changes and organism-level memories reveal something deeper about what memory really is?

“Both epigenetic and ‘brainy’ memories have one thing in common: a persistent change in the behaviour or state of a system, caused by an environmental stimulus that’s no longer present. Yet this description seems too broad, since it would also capture processes such as tissue damage, wounding or metabolic changes. Perhaps the interesting question isn’t really whether or not memories are needed for cognition, but rather which types of memories indicate the existence of underlying cognitive processes, and whether these processes exist in plants. In other words, rather than looking at ‘memory’ itself, it might be better to examine the more foundational question of how memories are acquired, formed or learned.”

Retrieved April 2, 2021 from Beyond the animal brain: plants have cognitive capacities too | Aeon Essays

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Water Supply

Bad, but not catastrophic, as this story from the Los Angeles Times reports.

An excerpt.

“Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north, leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty.

“But this latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very differently across this vast state.

“In Northern California, areas dependent on local supplies, such as Sonoma County, could be the hardest-hit. Central Valley growers have been told of steep cuts to upcoming water deliveries. Environmentalists too are warning of grave harm to native fish.

“Yet, hundreds of miles to the south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California reports record amounts of reserves — enough to carry the state’s most populous region through this year and even next.

“Memories of unprecedented water-use restrictions in cities and towns, dry country wells and shriveled croplands linger from California’s punishing 2012-16 drought.

“Officials say the lessons of those withering years have left the state in a somewhat better position to deal with its inevitable dry periods, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is not expected to declare a statewide drought emergency this year.

“We don’t see ourselves in that position in terms of supply,” said Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth. “If it’s dry next year, then maybe it’s a different story.”

“Southern California is a case in point.

“Lake Oroville, the big Sacramento Valley reservoir that helps supply the urban Southland, is only 41% full and the Metropolitan Water District can expect a mere 5% of full deliveries from the north this year.

“But the agency has more water than ever stored in regional reservoirs and groundwater banks.

“We’re not contemplating any difficulty in meeting deliveries,” said Brad Coffey, water resources manager for the MWD, which imports supplies from the Colorado River and Northern California.

“Los Angeles, which is partially supplied by the MWD, is similarly confident that it will have no problem meeting local demand. “We’re not in any shortage,” said Delon Kwan, assistant director of water resources for the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

“L.A.’s water use has declined to 1970s levels, despite the fact that California’s biggest city has nearly 1 million more residents than it did then. Restrictions on landscape watering have been in place for a decade, and the city continues to offer conservation rebates for water-efficient appliances and lawn removal.

“Across the state, overall urban water use remains 16% less than it was in 2013.

“We see an enduring conservation and efficiency from the last drought,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board. “We changed fundamentally our water use on the urban side.”

“System improvements have been made in small rural communities that ran out of water when their wells dried up during the last drought.

“Though agriculture is expected to once again turn to groundwater to make up for sharp cuts in federal irrigation deliveries, officials are hoping to avert a repeat of the last drought, when growers rushed to drill new wells and ramped up pumping so much that parts of the intensely farmed San Joaquin Valley sank several feet.

Retrieved April 2, 2021 from Northern California to suffer more as drought looms – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)

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American River Parkway Plan

It is available for public review and comment until May 15, 2021 at https://regionalparks.saccounty.net/Parks/Documents/ARP_NRMP_Public Review Draft_03-15-21.pdf

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