“It's grim. It's going to be a rough year for the coho,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fish biologist who coordinates the coho monitoring program. “They can't get where they need to go.”
Obedzinski is part of the UC Sea Grant program, based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
Two coho spawning streams — Porter and Pena creeks — are already cut off from the river. If no more rain falls, other tributaries, including Green Valley, Dutch Bill and Mill creeks, will likely go dry in spots, Obedzinski said.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is already planning rescue operations to save the smolts and younger fish in disconnected streams.
Last year some streams disconnections took place in late May, toward the end of the salmon run. The drying being seen in mid April may be unprecedented. Obedzinski said it was possibly the worst year for the fish since stream monitoring began in 2005.
A multiagency effort to save the Russian River coho began in 2001, when the fish were on the verge of extinction. The effort includes California Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and UC Sea Grant.
Sumner leads the UC Agricultural Issues Center, where scientists study such topics as international markets, invasive pests and diseases, the value of agriculture research and development and the rural environment.
The reason for drought's lack of impact on produce prices can be traced to the state's geography, water infrastructure and the economics of its agricultural industry, the op-ed says.
"The Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys are home to significant production of alfalfa, silage, rice, cotton and other so-called field crops, but are also a major source of fresh produce, including peppers, melons, grapes, oranges, tree nuts and tomatoes. Farmers in these valleys have typically relied on a mix of pumped groundwater and surface water deliveries via both the Central Valley Project—a huge network of dams, reservoirs and canals—and the larger California State Water Project. Most farmers, however, will receive no water from the CVP for the second year in a row, and the SWP is delivering only a fraction of normal allocations.
"This, coupled with much higher groundwater pumping costs as more and deeper wells are required, has forced many farmers to shift out of thirsty field crops. But this decreased production has minimal effects on food prices because California accounts for a small share of the supply, or because these crops affect food prices only indirectly. For example, fewer acres of corn silage makes it more expensive to feed milk cows, but the subsequent effect on the price of cheese is small. Fresh produce, which generates high revenue per unit of water consumed, continues to be planted."
The authors said the water bond voters passed in November 2014 and new regulations on groundwater use enacted by the state legislature is help, eventually. Some farmers are adjusting planting schedules and shifting crops between growing regions to adapt. Others are rerouting water from annual field crops, which can be left unplanted for a year or two, to permanent crops such as fruit and nut trees.
Even if water remains short for the next 10 years, an adequate supply of fresh fruits and vegetables should not be a concern, the authors wrote. "In a global market, produce suppliers from the U.S., Mexico, Chile and beyond compete to keep prices low," they said.
It takes nearly four litres of water to produce each solitary almond, the article said (about one gallon). The almond's small size, high retail price and easy-to-understand water needs create a a handy example of purported ag water gluttony for people being asked to conserve.
Almonds have become California's second-most lucrative crop and No. 1 agricultural export, but doesn't deserve "as much of a target as is on its back," said David Doll, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources almond expert. Doll is a farm advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County.
The industry, he said, has reduced its water use by about 30 percent over the last 30 years. At 0.8 litres of water per calorie produced, the almond is actually more efficient than the average food crop.
And the one gallon of water, Doll said, produces not just the edible almond but a hull and shell that are used as livestock feed, reducing the need for water-consuming corn and alfalfa.
“Agriculture is fundamental to California,” Brown told “NewsHour” on PBS. “And, yes, they use most of the water, and they produce the food and the fiber that we all depend on and which we export to countries all around the world. So, we're asking them too to give us information, to file agriculture water plans, to manage their underground water, to share with other farmers.”
David Doll, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources nut crop advisor in Merced County, explained that farmers have been cutting their water use with conservation and by leaving land fallow.
“This drought impacts farming severely,” Doll said. “I think in many cases we don't understand how bad it will affect agriculture until the end of the year.”
UC ANR experts were used by many news outlets for commentary on stories related to Gov. Brown's unprecedented mandatory water conservation efforts:
The environment, agriculture and urban consumers drink up California's water
Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee
As California confronts a snowpack only 5 percent of average, "Everyone is feeling it," said the director of UCANR's California Institute for Water Resources, Doug Parker. Parker said some of the water dedicated to the environment also provides recreation or navigation. “There are a lot of times when water has multiple uses,” said Parker, who is also the strategic initiative leader for the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources' Water Initiative.
California's water woes primed to get worse as groundwater is drained
Todd C. Frankel, Washington Post
The most alarming feature of the state's water shortage remains hidden from view, scientists say. California is running low on groundwater. And as the water is pumped up, the ground sinks down. In some places, the pace of subsidence could reach one inch a month for the rest of the year, said Thomas Harter, a UC ANR groundwater hydrologist based at UC Davis. That could end up further damaging infrastructure, such as the state's vital network of water canals.
California's drought probably won't make your food prices rise
Sally French, Market Watch
Consumers will largely be spared of any drought-related price increases, said UC ANR's Daniel Sumner, who directs the Agricultural Issues Center. For one, the affected crops have been mostly field crops, such as rice, cotton, hay and corn silage. Crops like produce, berries and avocados tend to come from coastal regions where water cuts have been smaller and ground water is available, Sumner said.
California's Wasteful Water Habits Run Up Against a Dry Future - and Past
Andrew Revkin, New York Times
The reporter references a presentation that is part of the UC ANR California Center for Water Resources' Insights: Water and Drought Online Seminar Series.
California almonds draining state's water supply
News 10 ABC
California Department of Water Resources estimates the annual almond harvest accounts for up to one tenth of the state's total water consumption every year. Ken Shackel, a UC ANR Agricultural Experiment Station faculty member based at UC Davis, says almonds drink a lot less water than other products when you compare them nutritionally to other crops and commodities. "If something is high in sugar, it's probably relatively inexpensive water wise, and if something is high in proteins and fats especially it's going to be a much higher price to pay."
Tips on how to cut water use
KGET NBC 17 Bakersfield
UC ANR experts in Kern County provide water saving tips. UC ANR Cooperative Extension director Brian Marsh said the office has been conducting drought research and education for many years. UC ANR advisor David Haviland explained that warmer weather this spring is helping flies develop more quickly than usual.
"This drought has brought home to more people the truth that California is a dry place and we are not going to have all the water we want,” said Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California-Davis and director of its Center for Watershed Sciences.
According to Lund, limiting the use of groundwater in wetter years allows replenishment of groundwater basins, would allow municipalities and farms to later draw upon them during drought conditions.
Doug Parker, director of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Water Resources Institute, concurred. He said the exhaustion of aquifers during non-drought years has meant that, under the current circumstances, farmers have had to drill ever-deeper to access water. But greater depths mean a more expensive process, leaving lower-income farmers at a disadvantage.
Farmers benefit from direct contact with the universities' extension officers, who advise them on best practices.
The UC ANR Cooperative Extension, for example, has hosted over 150 workshops totaling over 10,000 attendees, said Parker, who also noted that the UC system has been addressing water issues since 1880.