Over the weekend, much of the Sierra foothills was impacted by another PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff (or PSPS, as the company calls it). This time, the advertised windstorm actually materialized - and while shutting off the electrical grid probably made sense from a wildfire prevention perspective, PG&E's actions had unforeseen consequences for many foothill farms and ranches.
For customers of the Placer County Water Agency, the power shutoff meant no American River water during an especially dry period. Citrus growers, especially, are entering a critical timeframe in the ripening of this year's mandarin crop. Many livestock producers rely on winter water during this time frame to provide drinking water for livestock - others pump groundwater for livestock (which is difficult without electricity). This evening, I'm filling a water tank in the back of my truck to haul water to our sheep in the morning.
But water (or the lack thereof) isn't the only challenge. Talking with Bob Bonk of Snow's Citrus Court this morning, I realized that growers who require cold storage where especially hard hit. Bob reported that he'd exceeded his fuel budget keeping generators running over the weekend. He'd also exceeded his capital purchase budget buying an additional generator. These added costs are difficult to anticipate, but necessary to staying in business. Bob also reported that many direct-market vegetable growers lost product without cold storage. Some growers who couldn't pump groundwater were not able to wash their produce.
Finally, I received a notice from my cellular provider late yesterday that I'd burned through most of my data for the month. Like many other producers, I imagine, I had turned to my cell phone to keep up with weather and fire conditions, information from PG&E, and other local news. All of these costs add up!
In the coming week, we will be working on a survey to document impacts to farmers and ranchers - we hope you'll take a few minutes while the memory of these recent outages is fresh to share your story. And over the winter months, we'll be working with the agricultural community to develop plans for dealing with these challenges in the future. Stay tuned!