Tag Archives: California drought

El Nino Conclusion: Godzilla Got Tamed

We were told by every weather prognosticator this side of Toyko, that 2015-2016 winter season would be one to remember as the Godzilla of all El Ninos bore down on the Golden State. The result? Meh.

Godzilla is leaving - was he ever here?

Godzilla is leaving – was he ever here?

With the middle of spring in California, the forces of nature turn as the winter half of the year gives way to summer-type weather. The current week should offer up everything, with highs already hitting the 90 mark. Lows have been in the 30s, which isn’t unusual this time of year. By Friday, wine country should see a bit of rain – something we haven’t had a tremendous amount of, even though El Nino was suppose to rage with a wrath of moisture.

Not much to talk about

We noted three months ago that winter had done its usual thing, but no big rains had come our way. The same forecasters who bellowed about El Nino coming out of the sea with monster like vengeance, proclaimed March would make up for a less than destructive Godzilla. But no, there wasn’t much to say about wet weather last month other than a sprinkle or light shower here and there on the Central Coast. As April wanes, so does the intensity of rain and ultimately, this year likely will go down as nothing more than a typical season of weather … at best.

The warmer-than-normal Pacific Ocean, that is suppose to fuel El Nino’s watery devastation, is fading away. In fact, folks at the National Weather Service see a distinct possibility of La Nina moving in next fall. La Nina is El Nino’s alter ego where the surface water temps switch to cooler than normal and in-turn creates colder and drier than usual winters in California.elnino-lanina

Rain, but enough

It should be stated that our Californian brethren to the north have received above average rain, which is good for our reservoir system. However, the Sierra Nevada snow pack, where we get a majority of our water from, did not quite reach their average, especially in the central and southern sections.

Weather people got it wrong again and with it the drumbeat of drought will continue in wine country. Conserving water will persist throughout the coming year, which would make five straight years of deficient water capacity in California.

As I’ve mentioned before and Blue Oyster Cult put simply and accurately:

“History shows again and again
How nature points up the folly of men”

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Is California Still The World’s Breadbasket?

Grape yields in California may be lower this year due in part to the four-year drought and the state’s incompetent handling of water issues. However, the vineyard business isn’t the only industry suffering in the Golden State. The once vibrant farming industry is steadily being shrunk at ever alarming rates, bringing to question: Is California still America’s breadbasket?

Stockton_farmland

Before those in the Great Plains start having a conniption fit over the term ‘breadbasket’, for a century or more, California has always had the title of the ‘world’s breadbasket’, probably due to the fact so many foods, grown year-round are produced in the nearly 165,000 square miles of its borders. According to California Department of Food and Agriculture, while the state only has 1/20th of the farmland in the United States, it supplies the most products, including dairy, nuts and of course grapes.

Fish = Fallow land

Yet, this great state’s accomplished farm production is waning as huge lots of land acreage go fallow. Although there are many factors involved in how this agricultural powerhouse lost its way, when a bait fish can stop a farmer dead-in-his-tracks, you know there’s something not right.

In the past decade, the delta smelt, used primarily by local fishermen in the San Joaquin Delta for bait to catch other fish, made it’s way into the canals that supply the thousands of farms in the central part of the state where so many crops are grown. The delta smelt and also the Chinook Salmon weren’t comfortable, so to make life better for the fish, life became much worse for the people of the state. You can go here, for more of the insanity regarding the delta smelt. Let’s just say the crazy ways of Sacramento have been very detrimental to human life in the Golden State.

Delta canals distributing water to farms.

The farms of the San Joaquin Valley relied on the water from mountain streams that led into reservoirs and finally the canals. However, with drought, the state felt compelled to stop sending water to the farms, so farmers in-turned, drilled for water. But, they went to the well too often and many of those water wells have dried up. And with it, farmlands have dried up too, looking more like arid deserts, than a vigorous and unique land of plenty.

Lost lands and livelihood 

It’s estimated that 5% of California’s farmlands have gone unplanted. Hundreds of millions of dollars – and maybe billions – have been lost due to the financial strain caused by shrinking farm production. A cross section of crops such as orange orchards and rice fields have gone fallow at alarming rates. Lost businesses and jobs are the norm. Drive through the center of the state, and you will see fallow lands everywhere. It’s not pretty.

Climate change folks might bark that this is a direct result of ‘global warming’, but even alarmist experts have backed off any correlation between the weather in California and so-called man-made climate change (source: NBC).

California farmland going fallow quickly.

The southern part of the San Joaquin Valley is being hit the worse. Counties such as Kern, King and Tulare are running out of ground water, some of which was sold to other regions before they new there would be a severe drought. And there lies another problem.

Big city water

The big cities of the state including Los Angeles, have tied up and purchased vast amounts of water from around the state. The Metropolitan Water District in Southern California has control of vast amounts of water. For instance, they purchased large farmlands next to the Colorado River, to ensure water for the millions of people living in the Greater L. A. Area (source: Desert Sun).

The state has ripped the water rights away from farmers all over California. Crops like grapes haven’t been affected too badly yet, but it will be only a matter of time before vineyards start being left abandoned with no irrigation to keep them going.

UC Davis reported in June that the agricultural industry in the state will have an estimated $2.7 billion in losses and about 18,600 job cuts as a result of the drought. Over half-a-million acres have gone fallow in the Golden State, which has left fields looking gold and not green.

Is California Still The World’s Breadbasket? The answer may not be long in coming.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Godzilla, El Nino … And The Blob?!

“History shows again and again
How nature points out the folly of men”

I’ve had this ringing in my ears for almost a month after seeing Blue Oyster Cult sing one of their big hits “Godzilla” at the Mid State Fair. No, this isn’t about classic rock groups or ‘B’ movies, but instead the irony and how true it rings now that the supposed Godzilla of El Nino’s sits out in the Pacific, ready to emerge once fall is in full force.

Godzilla

That’s what the weather experts are calling for this coming season (source: L.A. Times) and therefore we may see the rainiest El Nino on record. Of course, predicting nature and weather, even among scientist, is little more than a bad game of dart throwing. Still, from every corner, we’re being told that after having one of the worse droughts on record, we may end the drought with the most massive subtropical moisture driven winters ever. This may be worse than any ‘B’ movie can conjure up.

The National Weather Service states every computer model now has the Southwestern U.S. staring down the barrel of a big El Nino late this year. It likely will last through early spring. Whether this all comes to past is up for grabs since the history of nature has a tendency to show us again and again the folly of forecasting weather – it’s never been an exact science.

“With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound”

Certainly this summer has been influenced mightily by the warm waters off our California coast. We’ve had monsoonal flow from Arizona all the way up here in Central California. The Godzilla of summer storms hit California in July bringing the remnants of Hurricane Dolores right to our doorstep, causing terrible damage. There was terrible sounds of furious thunder and lightning, plus flooding and mudslides after heavy winds and three-and-a-half inches of rain fell – most of it in less than a couple hours.

Godzilla Versus The BlobThe Blob

Not to be outdone – with another ‘B’ movie reference – we also have the ‘Blob’ to contend with. Nicknamed the Blob, it’s a warmer than usual body of water that may have contributed to pulling Dolores further up the Pacific Coast. It sits in the Gulf of Alaska and although much more shallow than El Nino as far as the depth of warm water is concerned, the Blob brings an X-factor to weather forecasters.

The farmers, especially grape-growers, don’t seem as apprehensive since the vines are dormant during winter. Frost is usually the big concern in early spring after bud-break, however, if this powerful rain phenomenon should continue into spring, diseases like rot and mildew can wreak havoc with vineyards. Dolores was relatively quick, but a constant drumbeat of incessant downpours are a trademark of El Nino. If El Nino should make a premature arrival in early fall, wet weather can also ruin grapes prior to harvest; but, this years early picking will probably dodge that pitfall.

The Blob’s warm waters off Alaska and Canada is a big unknown. A typical El Nino has only warm waters off California with cooler temps north. This year’s conditions though are more intense with bigger and deeper warm water. No one is sure how this will affect the normal El Nino pattern – it could bring storms farther north and moderate the impact, or it might exasperate the conditions and make for a monster weather system.

The truth of the matter is, the Blob could influence the Godzilla of El Nino’s, which in-turn may raise its ugly head and turn around, heading back into the depths of the Pacific. October is roughly the beginning of the rainy season in California and climatologists say the next several weeks will determine more certainty as to whether this prediction of a devastating rain pattern will actually happen. Until then, it’s something no one knows for sure.

“Oh no, they say he’s got to go go go Godzilla”

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Record-breaking July Storm In Paso Robles

“It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya
It pours, man, it pours”

That infamous chorus of words were never more true than when remnants of Hurricane Dolores came up from the Mexican tropics and dumped extremely rare heavy rains on generally the southern half of California. What a powerful and freak occurrence.

I don’t believe Albert Hammond’s’ 1972 song It Never Rains in Southern California had summer in mind, because essentially it never rains in California in the summer, period. Sure, an occasional monsoonal flow from Arizona sneaks in usually in late summer, but those rains do not make regular appearances except for maybe the Southern California deserts. Yet, rain in heavy amounts pummeled much of California.

Normally dry – Now Hurricanes? 

Here in the wine country of Paso Robles, measurable rain is even more rare, because our cool waters off the Central Coast stop any energy from generating strength to pull storms this far north. Plus, July is our driest month with an average of .1 inches of rain in a normal year. Except this isn’t a normal year as El Nino has made its presence felt long before winter arrives. And that’s how the moisture associated with a former Hurricane came to spew what energy it had left on the North County.

Hurricane Dolores off Baja as she approaches Southern California.

Hurricane Dolores off Baja as she approaches Southern California.

Paso Robles received over three and a half inches of rain on July 26th, most of which fell during a few early morning hours. Constant lightning and thunder hammered the area incessantly before, during and after the big rain event. Unprecedented, doesn’t do this occurrence justice. With ground dry as a bone, Dolores’ remnant moisture made its way everywhere and flooded any crevice, creating a mess. By the way, the former record for rain in the whole month of July is .59 inches. The record is as Mick Jagger would say: Shattered.

On a personal note, the rain devastated the backyard and part of the house. There’s a hill behind the house and the hard rain washed away anything it could including mud right into the backyard and patio, making for quite a muddy wet swamp. Shovels are at the ready as we wait for an insurance adjuster. The force of the storm was so ferocious, it actually ripped up a very small portion of the roof – but understand this is a concrete tiled roof.

All-in-all it was one of those rare infrequent episodes that reared its ugly head and decided the parched and drought-stricken California was a nice place to disgorge itself of massive amounts of water.

California drought over?

We pray for rain in the Golden State, and maybe we prayed too hard, because rain came in buckets over a very short period and wreaked a little devastation along the way. This may not have ended the drought, but indications are, it certainly could come to an end soon.

The warmer waters off the the coast created by El Nino have allowed monsoonal flows from the desert to reach us this summer with light showers or sprinkles, but this powerful storm did much more than that. Paso Robles was at the very northern edge of Dolores’ impact, but in the end, we may have received more of her fury than most. Also, this area is dry as a rule, but we’ve had a muggier than normal summer so far.

I don’t know if this will be a problem for the wine-growers, because one of the results of rain like this and humid conditions is mildew, which is an unwanted problem for vineyards.

If this is any indication of what we’re in for when the rainy season actually arrives, the California drought will be over and we may have other more pressing and damp problems to address. In the interim, as MC Hammer might say, it’s shovel time.

Additional sources: El Nino in History, Accuweather

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Water Update: The Good And Not-So-Good

The three-year drought that has ravaged California and locally on the Central Coast, not only has the lack of water affected normal life, but also the politics have torn apart this otherwise quiet part of the Golden State. There are recent changes.

Legal rights restored … for now

First off, the good news is that property rights have been somewhat restored to landowners here in San Luis Obispo County. This week, the County Board of Supervisors has voted to let the temporary ordinance expire in August. The controversial law had banned property owners from drilling for their own water without an offset. This forced wineries to discontinue planting additional grapes. It also didn’t allow landowners to drill deeper when their wells went dry. Before this, they held the legal right to drill for water. Water rights restored is a start.

Nonetheless, the county is still moving headlong into forming a water basin district in the Paso Robles area. Last week, the same supervisors decided to continue proceeding with plans of creating a water district to control use of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, which is one of the largest natural aquifers in the country. In concert with the State Water Resources Control Board, the district is set to be formed by the summer of 2017 – this new groundwater agency will impose requirements that likely will control water usage not unlike the temporary ordinance that will expire in six months.

Rain & conservation

With that said, the California drought is still bad and although fall offered hope with more than normal rains, winter hasn’t been so cooperative. Yet, currently there is a storm heading our way this weekend and should dump a decent amount of showers over the region.

The Governor, Jerry Brown, recently announced that Californians were reducing their use of water as per a report card of sorts (source: Capital Press). The State Water Resources Control Board had instituted water restrictions last year and although Brown wanted to see more cuts than actually occurred, the state is now taking more actions to manage the water situation. In short, this doesn’t look good for farmers, jobs or Californians in general – go here for more.

The drought isn’t as bad as its been during the past three years; and, a forecast for a wet second half of winter is certainly being looked on with bated breath.

So the news is mixed. Law will finally be restored for property rights even if the water district will likely take that all away in the future. The rain totals so far aren’t earth-shattering, however, rains in February are usually the heaviest of the entire year and March can also be quite wet … we can only hope so as the wet stuff is still foremost on everyone’s mind in wine country.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Losing Paso Robles Water?

We’ve opined on these pages before about water problems plaguing Paso Robles including drought and who has the rights to the water in the first place. Now, the region may be losing their rights to a huge ground water reservoir in the North County to eastern academics 3,000 miles away.

Harvard

Harvard’s Widener Library

Harvard University, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, endowment arm has been quietly buying up land and the rights to water pumped from that ground for investment purposes. This isn’t the first time we heard about this, but it appears the Ivy League school has not lost steam in purchasing giant parcels and grabbing hold of the water pumped from said properties.

Harvard Management Company buying up the Central Coast 

Roughly a year ago, reports surfaced Harvard Management Company was acquiring real estate on California’s Central Coast. Whether it was the stories about drought and how Paso Robles had this huge natural underground aquifer or perhaps the fact the region was crowned the world number one wine region, regardless, land was being gobbled up throughout the area. From Santa Barbara, to San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties, mostly rural properties were being bought on a steady basis, on behalf of Harvard – though all entities involved, would not corroborate the information.

And from all indications, none of these acquisitions were great farming deals, meaning, there had to be an alternative reason for the purchases. Betting on the potentially liquid gold underneath the surface had to be the only logical reasoning behind these procurements.

Brodiaea-Shandon-vineyard

The wine industry is in a boon of sorts in Paso Robles, and certainly the city is by most accounts, a company town in that viticulture has a hold on the region. There is little influence in the region by the behemoth population centers of Greater L.A. and the Bay Area. The region is somewhat protected by the huge expanse of farming land to the north and mountains to the south. With vineyards and to a lesser degree, orchards, planted on a lot of the existing farmland, the area is filtered and isolated from big city expansion and manipulation.

However, there’s no stopping someone from coming in and paying top dollar for land, so they can be in command of the water down below. Those in favor of a water district for Paso Robles, are indirectly helping outside investments, which brings with it the concern of powers-to-be outside the cities purview may gain control of the water below.

Harvard Memorial Hall - Wikipedia

The halls of Harvard academia might be trying to influence farmland 3,000 miles away on Central Coast of California.

School’s admitted strategy

Last spring, the Harvard Crimson, the schools daily newspaper, reported that investments from the Harvard’s endowment portfolio were being made through a company called Brodiaea, for the expressed strategy of investing:

“in natural resources by purchasing millions of dollars’ worth of vineyard land in central California,”

The investments then in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties were $61 million while acquiring about 10,000 acres, though again, no comments were forth coming, yet it was generally thought that the move was a “water play”. That’s hearsay and probably not compelling enough. Then consider this: Harvard’s own business school did case study in 2009 on water and farming resources in California.

Ground recharge has been a problem here in Paso Robles with some shallow wells drying up in small subdivisions as well as farms. The three-year drought has been to blame, but the fact is, there is still a sea of water below called the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. Created by the Salinas River, it’s one of the largest natural aquifers in the country. Purportedly to save what water remained, San Luis Obispo County took away the rights of landowners so they could stop all new water wells from being drilled. This means for now, only those who have existing well and vines, can continue to water their crops. Those lands are what the secretive Harvard endowment is buying up.

“In vino veritas”

There may not be a lot of ‘truth’ coming from Harvard regarding investments in the vineyards – and water – of Paso Robles.

This brings us back to who is becoming the regions largest landowner and grape-grower: Harvard Management Company. There’s still no word from Brodiaea, who is handling the acquisitions and management of this farming land.

The weather has been inconsistent so far this season with a much wetter than normal end of fall, but a more typical drought-like situation during the first month of winter. We should see rain coming back into the picture next week and forecast claim the rest of winter should be wet. Whether that has any bearing on Harvard’s investments or not; many will likely be watching. Nonetheless, how outside influences such as these affect Paso Robles or not, could hinge on both the climate of weather and business … and how much water is in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

There’s a famous Latin phrase that many here in the world of wine are familiar with that says: ‘In vino veritas’ (in wine there is truth). Harvard’s motto is ‘veritas’ meaning truth. Will Paso Robles lose their water? It remains to be seen how much truth comes out of these circumstances.

Additional sources: Mercator Research

Veritas,

Daryle W. Hier

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Farmers Have Had Enough – Sue California

In the ongoing battle for water and rights, a group of farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have filed a suit against the state of California.

Friant Water AuthorityThe drought has been agitated and made worse by decisions created by state official’s choices. Therefore, the suit was filed by the Friant Water Authority – a group of about 15,000 farmers – to address these poor resolutions by the state.

Government not helping

The problem is the state has decided that a wildlife refuge north of Los Banos (and others) was more important than the welfare and legal rights of California citizens including growers. The farmer’s rights were denied when the state allowed water for the bird refuge while denying delivery of water to growers. Law states the farmers have higher precedence over wildlife and thus the water should have been delivered to the small towns along with growers in the area.

As a whole, the Golden State is semi-arid and thus has built dams and water project throughout California to cope with a lack of water, especially during dry years. The issue has risen and been compounded because state and federal officials have been using water to help a baitfish and salmon deal with their less than desirable conditions. However, that has led to huge amounts of water being allotted for wildlife while denying Californians water.

San Luis National Refuge

Piling on

Causing a man-made disaster, the federal government pushed by environmentalists, allowed water to be diverted towards the ocean so the Delta Smelt would have the correct amount of water to exist. That’s on top of the fact that farmers weren’t allowed to use their own channels because the smelt had worked its way into the farmers waterways. Another reprehensible action by the state was denying farmers the water that was already purchased.

With an iffy weather report for this coming winter, the drought will continue to be front-and-center with the government pitted against its citizens.

The suit by the Friant Water Authority can’t help what has already transpired, but it can negate and/or facilitate future water right’s situations should they arise again.

Cheers,

Daryle Hier

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