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Drought status lifted in CA

Cattle and Beef Industry News
Apr 21, 2017

— Conservation efforts remain in place

Californians received good news earlier this month when Gov. Edmund Brown, Jr. lifted the drought emergency that had been in effect since 2014. Restrictions on “wasteful” practices remain in effect.

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” said Brown. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

Brown’s announcement was followed a few days later by a notice from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) that the State Water Project (SWP) would supply 100 percent of the contract for contractors north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and 85 percent of requests for other contractors. DWR said this is the highest allocation since it was last at 100 percent in 2006.

DWR Acting Director William Croyle said work is being done to repair spillways at reservoirs and lakes, including Lake Oroville. He noted lake levels had not been determined and will depend on the rate of snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With that in mind, he said, the allocation could be adjusted to allow more water to contractors later this spring.

DWR had initially estimated it would only be able to deliver 20 percent of the 4.1 million acre-feet of SWP water requests this year. That projection was increased to 45 percent on Dec. 21, 2016 and to 60 percent on Jan. 18, 2017 as winter storms developed.

California Cattlemen’s Association President Dave Daley commented on the governor’s announcement and moisture levels in the state, saying, “It’s been wonderful to have frankly one of the wettest years on record. But I would caution people to realize California is a really big and long state, and so not all areas are impacted equally.” He added, “I’m from the northern part of the state and we have tremendous moisture—a big snowpack. But that’s not true throughout the state. As you get far south in the state they didn’t have the same rainfall that we’ve had.”

Asked about optimism and the possibility of expanding or rebuilding cattle herds, Daley said there is some energy moving in that direction because of ample forage, but the excitement is somewhat tempered by cattle prices. “We’ve seen the price tick up over the last few weeks; there is optimism. Anybody in the cattle business realizes you can liquidate pretty quickly but rebuilding is a slower process,” he told WLJ. “I do hear more discussion of people trying to figure out how and where they can get their numbers back since the drought. At the very least there is going to be more pasture available and that is going to change the dynamic a little.”

Agreeing that the moisture levels have helped put at least a small smile on the faces of cattle producers, Daley said in his personal situation and depending on where they are located, producers won’t have to worry so much about stock pond water or hauling water in the fall. Additionally, he said adequate forage will allow ranchers to maintain or at least not significantly decrease herds.

“As state president I have traveled the state, county to county, and I think the last two or three years have been pretty tough. If the market can stabilize, I can generally say, for the most part, the attitude is moving in the right direction.”

Although the news was welcomed by agricultural producers it came too late for some farmers to plant additional crops. California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) Communications Manager, Dave Kranz, explained to WLJ that federal Central Valley Project (CVP) postponed its traditional mid-February water allocation announcement and in March, it said it would provide 100 percent supplies to many agricultural customers but only 65 percent to agricultural contractors south of the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta. Those contractors received only a 5 percent supply last year and 0 percent the previous two years. Then recently the CVP said it would deliver 100 percent to those contractors.

“Because the announcements came late in the season, farmers had already made their planting plans for 2017, so won’t be adding much if any acreage at this point, beyond what they had already planned,” Kranz said. “But the additional surface water will allow farmers to draw less on groundwater, which will be a help.”

As drought and water management has been an issue in California for many years, Kranz told WLJ that the record moisture this winter has shown the limits of the state’s existing water supply system. He noted that water managers had to let a lot of water escape to the ocean this year because the state doesn’t have the reservoir capacity to hold it or the infrastructure to move it to spreading basins where it could be used to replenish groundwater aquifers. “We may very well wish we had that water available when the next drought arrives, as we know it will.” Kranz said. “Even more water will likely be released later this spring and summer as reservoir operators draw down the reservoirs to make room for the coming snowmelt.”

California Rep. David Valadao (R-21) issued a statement following the announcement, saying, “Although it is unfortunate that today’s announcement came so late in the growing season, I am encouraged by the increased allocation and hope such decisions will be determined earlier moving forward.” He continued, “Access to a clean, reliable water supply is the lifeblood of the Central Valley’s booming agricultural economy, and is imperative to the everyday lives of all Valley families. Today’s announcement also emphasizes the need to improve our water infrastructure. In doing so, water from storms, such as those we experienced this winter, could be captured to satisfy all contractual obligations, and stored for future dry years.”

Valadao introduced H.R. 23 on Jan. 23, 2017, cited as the “Gaining Responsibility on Water Act of 2017,” intended, among other things, to provide drought relief for California. The measure was referred to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans on Feb. 10. No further action has been taken at this time.

The drought in California spanned water years 2012 through 2016. A water year is defined by the U.S. Geological Survey as the 12-month period from Oct. 1 for any given year through Sept. 30 of the following year.

Brown also said, “Although the severely dry conditions that afflicted much of the state starting in the winter of 2011-12 are gone, damage from the drought will linger for years in many areas.”

Daley concluded his comments, saying, “Cattlemen are by nature optimistic. They wouldn’t be in the business if they didn’t think ‘next year will be a little better.’” — Rae Price, WLJ Editor

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