Studies have repeatedly shown that federally subsidized crop insurance discourages farmers from updating their practices, tools, or strategies in ways that would help them adapt to climate change — but the federal government still subsidizes a whopping 62 percent of farmers’ insurance premiums.
Farmers in California’s San Joaquin Valley didn’t stop over-pumping groundwater when doing so contaminated local water supplies with arsenic, and they didn’t stop when the valley’s floor began sinking underneath them, by a foot per year in some places. State officials have long hoped to stop them with regulations—and last week, they decided that several local regulatory plans weren’t strong enough. (No paywall)
Modernizing a crumbling 19th-century irrigation system in Colorado and building spawning habitat for salmon downstream from thirsty California farms are among the nature-based projects in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill designed to help western states cope with drought.
The climate in California's Ojai Valley has been ideal for citrus, but that climate is changing—getting windier, drier, and hotter. A recent study showed that Ventura County’s temperature has warmed more in the last 125 years than any other county in the lower 48 states, as Lisa Morehouse reports in FERN's latest story, produced in partnership with KQED's California Repot. The corresponding rise of wildfires and drought has caused some Ojai growers to fallow orchards; farmers estimate at least 15 percent fewer acres in production now than a decade ago. County officials are concerned enough that they’re partnering with the local Farm Bureau and the Nature Conservancy to evaluate threatened farmland in Ojai and across the county.
As California enters its third year of drought, pressure is mounting for lawmakers to update the state’s antiquated water laws. On Thursday, a coalition of legal experts and retired state officials released a report with a list of suggested reforms, which they say would make California’s water politics more equitable and sustainable as climate change gets worse. If implemented — a major if — many of the reforms would provide a check on the state’s massive agricultural industry, which sucks up some 80 percent of all the water used in California.
An onslaught of rain and snow has pulled most of California out of exceptional drought, but experts warn that the state’s dry spell is far from over. Officials issued emergency water regulations this week — including a controversial exemption for agriculture — even as the northern part of the state braced for possible flooding from winter storms.(No paywall)
A legal dispute over water rights in California's Mojave desert has growers for The Wonderful Co. on one side and a town reliant on a sprawling naval base on the other. As Brent Crane reports in FERN's latest story, published with Bloomberg Green, the case offers a glimpse of the coming water wars in California, as the state's all-powerful agriculture interests increasingly square off against thirsty communities over a dwindling supply of fresh water. (No paywall)
Following the nearly record-setting rain and snowfall of last winter, California Gov. Jerry Brown removed most of the water conservation directives that were imposed during the five-year drought. State officials say they will "clamp down on wasteful water use and impose a long-term conservation program that could create conflicts with urban water users," reports the Sacramento Bee.
Three farmers in western Kansas are partnering with a state agency in a test of thrifty irrigation systems that require less water to grow crops in the Plains
Water levels in the aquifer underlying eastern Idaho are plummeting, so state officials have proposed creation of the East Snake Plain Aquifer groundwater management area, says The Associated Press. The result would be a plan that parcels out water to farmers and other users in predictable amounts rather than abrupt cutbacks when the holders of senior rights to the water claim their share.
The fourth year of unrelenting drought in California will cost the state agricultural economy $1.8 billion - 20 percent more than in 2014 - although farmers and their irrigation districts "are showing more resilience to the drought than many had anticipated," says a report by the UC-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.
Vegetable and fruit growers in the Salinas Valley on California's Central Coast "are actually thriving despite historically dry conditions - at least for now," says the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
For farmer Cannon Michael, life "is almost exclusively focused on finding ways to overcome the drought, and in California, when it comes to saving water, there's no time to waste," writes Sena Christian in the online magazine Ensia.
California's farmers will have less irrigation water and will idle more cropland this year than they did last year, says a study by UC-Davis. It estimates direct agricultural losses of $1.8 billion, comprised of $1.2 billion in lower crop, livestock and dairy revenue and $600 million in higher costs to pump water from wells. "When we account for the spillover effect of agriculture on the state’s other economic sectors, the total cost of this year’s drought on California’s economy is $2.7 billion and the loss of about 18,600 full- and part-time jobs," say the authors.