California's years-long drought is easing up, with storms delivering rain and snow that has exceeded "normal" for the state, reported Jed Kim for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk. Kim interviewed Dan Sumner, the director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide program that focuses on such topics such international markets, invasive pests and diseases, and rural development.
Sumner shared a message of hope during the two-minute Marketplace clip.
"So far at least, things are close enough to normal that farmers aren't going to make drastic changes in either their planting decisions or their irrigation decisions," Sumner said.
The abundant rainfall this year will ease pressure on the state's groundwater reservoirs, which have been tapped extensively during the drought to keep crops alive when surface water was unavailable.
"What that does is give us a little cushion in terms of planning for long-term changes," Sumner said.
Kim said the state may need to plan for a future with more limited water resources, "a future that may come sooner rather than later."
The California rainy season is off to a good start, raising hopes that the ongoing drought will be snapped, reported Aaron Davis in the East Bay Times.
"We've seen a sigh of relief from a lot of growers that are right at about half of their total seasonal average and we are halfway through the season," said Paul Verdegaal, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor in San Joaquin County.
The rain is helping flush salts away from the grapevines' rootzones and refill the aquifer, which has been depleted in some areas due to the years-long drought.
The National Weather Service's Seasonal Drought Outlook shows areas of Northern California already free from drought, some areas where the drought designation remains, but is improved, and areas where drought designation removal is "likely."
Half of the state's annual rainfall comes in December, January and February. "This is only mid-December .... So we still have a ways to go in our wet season and Northern California is well above average," said Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager with the California State Department of Water Resources.
Pottinger asked Ted Grantham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, whether the state's fish are adapted to periodic droughts.
Drought is one stressor, he said, but there are additional factors imperiling fish.
"California's native fish have been in steady decline for at least 50 years — in part due to dams, habitat degradation, and the introduction of non-native species," Grantham said. "Native fishes have developed several strategies to cope, but key to their long-term survival is their ability to recover from drought during wet years."
Grantham said there are at least three strategies that would help better manage the state's native fish.
- Better define the amount of water needed to sustain healthy fish populations.
- Create an accurate accounting system for tracking water availability and use.
- Recognize that not all streams are created equal. Some streams support more biological diversity.
The ecosystems science researcher said he is optimistic about the future.
"Although the drought has severely affected California's freshwater ecosystems, it also has raised awareness about the need to improve water management and better prepare for climate change," he said.
For more on threats to California native fish, read Identifying gaps in protecting California's native fish in the UC California Institute for Water Resources' blog The Confluence.
In December, Lake Nacimiento was at 16 to 17 percent of capacity. It has now risen to 22 percent. Lake San Antonio, which dropped to 3 percent of capacity last summer, is still at 3 percent now. It is so low that engineers refer to it as a "dead pool" because gravity cannot pull water out of the reservoir when it is at that level.
The Monterey County lakes don't fill as quickly as other lakes - such as Shasta, Folsom and Oroville - because they are fed by relatively small watersheds. Nacimiento and San Antonio were built in the 1950s and '60s for flood control and to recharge aquifers. With dropping aquifer water levels, farmers have had problems with their wells, the story said.
“Some growers' wells pull in as much air as water, so that they need repairs or lose the wells entirely. I've seen well drillers around, which indicates re-drilling,” said Michael Cahn, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey County. “This is a cost for agriculture.”
As they drill deeper, farmers also risk more seawater flooding in, contaminating the limited water supply. It was seawater intrusion that originally led to the construction of the Nacimiento and San Antonio dams.
Cahn was quoted at the end of the story with a positive message.
“The aquifers are currently at the lowest levels ever recorded, but they can go back up,” he said.
UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist Toby O'Geen was the lead author of research published in California Agriculture journal that identified agricultural lands in California suitable for flooding in order to bank groundwater. He has created an app that allows landowners across the state to assess the suitability of their property for groundwater banking.
The Modesto project will determine what impact winter flooding will have on the health of almond trees and almond yield. UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor Roger Duncan was quoted in the Los Angeles Times about the potential advantages and disadvantages of flooding crops in the winter. He said water could spur more fungal diseases, but could also drown out worms and mites that damage crops.
The Almond Board of California is funding the project, anticipating that certain almond orchards will be good candidates for groundwater recharge.
"Almond orchards have good soil characteristics, and water delivery systems are already in place,” said Bob Curtis, director of agriculture affairs for the almond board. “Winter flooding should actually benefit the trees while replenishing groundwater to benefit us all."
Following are recent articles about the project:
Researchers test a possible drought solution by flooding an almond farm
Geoffrey Mohan, The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 20, 2016
(Reprinted in Daily News 24/7)
Scientists flood almond orchards to restore groundwater in California
Capital Public Radio, Jan. 20, 2016
Stormwater floods Modesto almond orchard in experiment to restore aquifer
San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 19, 2016
(Reprinted in the Contra Costa Times)
Researchers show off groundwater recharge near Modesto
Modesto Bee, Jan. 20, 2016
(Reprinted in the Fresno Bee and Bloomberg Business)
UC Davis scientists flood Modesto orchards in hopes of finding way to restore groundwater
CBS13, Sacramento and Modesto affiliates, Jan. 20, 2016
Researchers test a possible drought solution by flooding an almond farm
KTLA News 5, Jan. 20, 2016
(Rebroadcast on KRQE News 13)
Orchard tries experiment to restore aquifer
Morning Ag Clips, Jan. 20, 2016
Almond orchard key to water banking experiment
AgraNet, Jan. 20, 2016