Water has long been a contentious subject in California. As the nation’s most populous state, leading the nation in farm production and a state dedicated to environmental protection, it’s easy to understand why. The severe, ongoing drought only puts a greater focus on water. While there’s hope for
Publish Date: Oct 03, 2021
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Water has long been a contentious subject in California. As the nation’s most populous state, leading the nation in farm production and a state dedicated to environmental protection, it’s easy to understand why. The severe, ongoing drought only puts a greater focus on water. While there’s hope for a wet fall and winter, Sacramento Valley water managers and other stakeholders are doing what they can to prepare for all outcomes. Teamwork and coordination are invaluable, especially during difficult times. “We are really fortunate in the Sacramento River Basin,” said Northern California Water Association President David Guy. “We have a real cohesive set of leaders that work very well together. Our managers and counsel work well together. That’s critical, particularly as we head into these next years that could be very challenging. I think every river system in the valley works together. We realize we’re all invested in the same types of actions and need to do the same types of things to be able to make sure that we have water supplies for the farms, cities and refuges.” Guy said he hopes more robust scenario planning this fall will further bring the region together, to be unified and best prepared for whatever 2022 holds for our water supply. While the drought took its toll in our region, including a 100,000 acre reduction in rice planting, the familiar fall activities of harvest and the Pacific Flyway wildlife migration are welcomed. This year has been an uphill battle for those safeguarding water for all who need it and for future generations. “It’s a daily, weekly, monthly and annual balancing act,” remarked Thad Bettner, General Manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, the largest water district in the Sacramento Valley. “We’re always making those sorts of decisions about how best to manage and use our supplies. A lot of environmental assets sit in our backyard, so we want to make sure we are meeting those needs as well. As a district, we’re very transparent in all of the things that we do and we’d love to have other partners come alongside us in helping us make these key decisions.” Harvest of America’s sushi rice is nearing its peak, with growers reporting good quality and production from the fields they were able to plant. Grower Don Bransford in Colusa said he planted about 25 percent less acreage this year due to the water cutbacks. Bransford has long been a leader in this region on key issues, and water is no exception. He said planning and coordination for 2022 must be a priority. “The challenges are great, as they were this year,” he said. “There obviously is not enough water to go around, so the environment was shorted and farming acreage had to be reduced because of the curtailments. Urban areas had a little better supply situation, so they have not experienced what agriculture has. Moving forward, I believe we have huge challenges in this coming year.” Those who know and love the Sacramento Valley understand the need to preserve this unique and essential part of California. “We are all very proud of our little communities in the Sacramento Valley, many of which are dependent on a viable rice industry,” Bransford said. “What other commodity can you grow that has over 200 wildlife species inhabiting a growing crop, and then once that crop is harvested, then you have the migratory waterfowl moving in for a winter feast. Here we have land that’s producing food and habitat – and they coexist wonderfully.” Michael Anderson: This past year is ranking up there in the top five of our driest years, and you pair it with last year, 2020, which was also dry, and now you're looking at the second driest since '76, '77. Very extreme pair of drought years there. Jim Morris: California state climatologist, Michael Anderson, describing our greater climate variability, which has contributed to this highly disappointing year for rain and snowfall. Michael Anderson: We're a lot warmer now than we were in '76, '77. April, May and June, that was the warmest and the driest in 125 years of record. The narrative of climate change for California is that we see a warming in temperatures, more rain, less snow, and more extremes. And we're seeing that play out in this last decade. Jim Morris: Drought impacts are being felt far and wide, including 100,000 fewer acres of rice planted here in the Sacramento Valley. What lies ahead for 2022? Only time will tell, but there's already a lot of thought being put into water management for the next year. Welcome to Ingrained, the California Rice Podcast. I'm your host, Jim Morris, proud to have worked with California farmers and ranchers for more than 30 years to help tell their stori