Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Recent rainfall doesn’t change outlook for Yolo farmers

WOODLAND — Last week’s rainfall didn’t do much for Yolo County’s surface water supply, county supervisors were told Tuesday. In fact, the long-awaited series of storms didn’t really do anything at all to improve the outlook for local farmers.

Yolo County receives surface water from storage in Clear Lake and the Indian Valley reservoir, both of which remain too low to tap even after the recent rainfall, said Tim O’Halloran, general manager of the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

“We’re in a dire situation in terms of water storage,” O’Halloran told supervisors.

The recent storms, he said, only raised the water level in Clear Lake by half a foot, “and we need to get another two feet for us to get water.”

The Indian Valley reservoir is in similar shape, he said.

In fact, O’Halloran said, conditions at Indian Valley have redefined the meaning of “drought” for him.

Back in December, he said, he received a call that the reservoir was on fire. He assumed that meant the trees around the reservoir were on fire. In fact, it was the trees that used to be submerged under water but were now standing on dry ground at the bottom of the reservoir that were burning.

“That’s my new definition of drought, when your reservoir is on fire,” O’Halloran said.

The water district ultimately closed the campground at Indian Valley on Jan. 27 because of drought-caused conditions — namely, the intake pump for the water treatment plant was above the water line, eliminating the ability to produce potable water for drinking and sanitation.

Yolo County farmers — who receive virtually all of the surface water that the county gets from Clear Lake and the reservoir — have been told to prepare for no water deliveries, and to make crop choices accordingly, O’Halloran said.

Already, the impact is being seen, said Yolo County Agricultural Commissioner John Young.

There will be no rice or wheat growing in some parts of the county, organic farmers who previously relied solely on surface water will not be planting, and corn, sunflower and other crops are likely to be reduced, Young said.

But the biggest impact of the drought will be on livestock, he added, because with no feed available in the dry hills, ranchers are forced to buy expensive hay. Many will sell off their livestock, he said, and many won’t recover from the losses.

Asked by supervisors what the impact will be on the county — including property tax assessments — Young said that won’t be known for a while.

“We’re really not going to know the extent of the drought damage until the summer of 2015,” he said.

One thing that will be seen more immediately, he said, “is a spike in unemployment.”

With no crops to farm, staff will be laid off.

If there was good news coming out of the water update on Tuesday, it was a recommendation from the county’s coordinator of emergency services that drought conditions locally do not yet warrant a disaster proclamation by the county.

OES coordinator Dana Carey said previous disaster declarations by the governor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have opened the way for farmers to apply for emergency farm loans and injury disaster loans and future federal funding would be available via the state’s disaster proclamation.

“We’re not recommending a disaster (proclamation) at this point,” Carey told supervisors, “but that doesn’t mean we won’t (eventually).”

Carey outlined specific triggers that would warrant a county declaration, including if any city within the county intended to proclaim a disaster, “we would recommend a county declaration,” because it would cover all communities within the county.

Similarly, if a request from a special district or UC Davis came in, that would warrant a proclamation, as would evidence that fire suppression or drinking water supplies were endangered.

Carey said her office is currently in regular contact with the fire department in Dunnigan where the water supply is in question.

O’Halloran, meanwhile, told supervisors that groundwater supplies that serve Davis, Woodland and Winters, as well as UC Davis and many farms, “are in pretty good shape.”

But how long that will continue without further rainfall is unclear. And with surface water supplies depleted or nonexistent, farmers will be pumping more and more of that groundwater.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.


Anne Ternus-Bellamy


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