USDA offers $20 million for California water conservation - The Packer

USDA offers $20 million for California water conservation

02/04/2014 02:57:00 PM
Mike Hornick

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is backing water conservation efforts in drought-stricken California with $20 million in new funding.

Its Natural Resources Conservation Service is making the funds available to growers and ranchers who apply by March 3 through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“The conservation resources are basically a grant to assist producers,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Feb. 4 conference call with reporters. “It’ll be focused on improving irrigation efficiency, providing resources to stabilize fallow ground that can’t be farmed and to assist with watering facilities and grazing distribution.”

Cropland with a reduced water allocation of at least 85% will get the highest priority. More information is available online or at local NRCS centers.

“The changing climate has provided for a more intense and longer period of severe drought with precipitation at all time lows in California impacting both agriculture and forestry,” Vilsack said.

Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said a county by county tally of fallowed land is still ongoing, but he expects to see between 200,000 to 300,000 acres fallowed on the Westside of Fresno County this year because of the drought.

“Those acres produce melons, tomatoes and all sort of vegetables and fruits,” Costa said. “And we have permanent crops in orchards and vineyards.”

“It’s still unclear in terms of direct impact on production,” Vilsack said. “But with scarce water resources we’re probably not going to be able to maximize production. The same thing could also frankly be said of a failure to have a stable work force; a lot of producers in California are confronted with that challenge as well.

“Its impact on food prices requires an understanding that farmers only get 15 cents of every food dollar. Even when there is a serious drought like this one, it doesn’t necessarily translate into significantly higher increased costs of food at the grocery store. There may be less, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s in the grocery store is going to be much more expensive.”

Soil erosion is among the concerns that prompted the funding, said Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary.

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Salinas  |  February, 05, 2014 at 10:27 AM

USDA should be commended for trying to help. People outside of the state don't realize that grants don't mean much if there is no water to be had at any price. California hasn't built a reservoir of any significance since the New Melones dam over thirty years ago (1980). I would use the $20mm a little bit differently. Take $17.5mm and put a down payment on a new dam somewhere...anywhere....use $2mm to tackle the activists and lawmakers who want their kitchen tap working but don't want a dam in their back yard....and use the last $500k to buy fishing nets for the groups that want to catch and release the delta smelts somewhere else so the pumps can stay on. Conservation is good practice but it isn't going to fix a problem that is forty years in the making. When we pump the aquifers to the point that primary wells aren't deep enough anymore, the real fun will begin.

Bruce Rucker    
February, 06, 2014 at 01:56 PM

Eric, California has the largest reservoir in the world in Sierra Nevada snowfall. Very little of that water is retained and most is allowed to flow into the San Francisco Bay. Your analysis is correct except you forget this is a political maneuver to raise water prices. More reservoirs must be built. The amount of pure water flowing into the San Francisco bay is staggering.

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