Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): water use

From Tennessee to the arid West, water runs through my work

Banks of the Shasta River, Siskiyou County, California (Mount Shasta in the background)

Banks of the Shasta River, Siskiyou County, California (Mount Shasta in the background)

Eastern Tennessee, at the edge of Appalachia, is a beautiful part of the country. Abundant rainfall and a humid climate have created a lush, green landscape filled with thriving streams and rivers. As an adolescent living in this environment, fishing was one of my family’s favorite pastimes. I have such great memories of floating these rivers and catching smallmouth bass and walleye.

But not all streams were great for fishing in Eastern Tennessee. Runoff and sedimentation from widespread coal mining and manufacturing would turn some rivers red. The sight of rivers nearly devoid of life disturbed me and marked the beginning of my slow evolution toward a career in water management.

My career has been a journey, exploring and addressing the nuances that define water, particularly in the western United States. The lure of water led me to Colorado State University, where I received a doctorate degree in watershed sciences. There I immersed myself in water issues, with a big focus on agricultural water use. I made my way back east to teach geology at Radford University before moving to California to begin work as a watershed engineer and consultant.

Today, as an associate vice president at Environmental Defense Fund, I am focused on developing collaborative solutions for managing water scarcity throughout the West. Read More »

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Why I promote the value of America’s farms and ranches

Woman in garden

My home garden, near San Francisco.

When I tend my garden at home near San Francisco, the words of writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry echo in my head: “We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?”

I do everything I can to conserve. I grow food that has a minimal impact on the environment, I use a drip irrigation system, I compost to minimize waste and collect shower water to reuse on my plants.

In my professional life, I work with large-scale farmers to reduce their environmental footprint while protecting their livelihoods. My job sheds light on the importance of ensuring food security by looking closely at how and where we grow food.

I’m driven by what I learned growing up in a rural farming town, and from my years in the Peace Corps in Mali. These experiences are the reason I work to preserve the complexity of the agro-ecosystems around me.

Read More »

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Despite drought, California agriculture is doing well. But there are hidden costs.

Water scarcity has affected California vineyards

Photo credit: Henrik Johansson

According to a new World Bank report, regions around the world could gain or lose up to 6 percent of their GDP by 2050 depending on how they manage for climate-driven water scarcity.

I was curious about how the report’s findings might apply to California, where I live.

Here in the Golden State, water scarcity is a familiar threat. And while the World Bank found that climate-water costs to North American GDP should be minimal, many Californians have suffered acutely from sustained drought.

In some cases, however, it isn’t entirely clear what the impacts of water scarcity have been. Read More »

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These reforms can unclog California’s water market and help the environment

Birds flying into the sunsetCalifornia has a long tradition of conflict over water. But after five years of drought and an El Niño that failed to live up to its “Godzilla” hype, the conflict has become a crisis. How will the state adjust to a changing climate, increasing demands and prolonged periods of water scarcity?

That’s the question my colleagues and I set out to answer in Better Access. Healthier Environment. Prosperous Communities: Recommendations for Reforming California’s Water Market.

We analyzed the state’s existing market and offered a set of policy reforms to improve the efficiency, accessibility and transparency of the market so that cities, rural communities and ecosystems can benefit without altering existing water rights.

We realize that it will take a portfolio of strategies to increase the state’s resiliency in the face of a growing population and increasingly severe weather. But markets have an especially important role in leveling what has become an uneven playing field. Read More »

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From Mexico City to San Francisco: A multi-national perspective on water management

Ana Lucia Garcia Briones (left) joined colleagues for a visit to the Kern Water Bank, which uses California’s groundwater space to store 1.5 million acre feet of water and retrieve it when account holders need it.

Ana Lucia Garcia Briones (left) joined colleagues for a visit to the Kern Water Bank in Bakersfield, California, which uses California’s groundwater space to store 1.5 million acre feet of water and retrieve it when account holders need it.

On World Water Day, I am reminded of what brought me to the Environmental Defense Fund: a passion for working on market-based incentive programs to improve groundwater management in California, ultimately benefiting multiple, diverse communities.

Born and raised in Mexico City, I moved to San Francisco to work on drought-related problems in California. It has been a surreal experience, allowing me to help disproportionately impacted communities, many of which are poor Latino communities in the rural Central Valley, where most of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown. In this way, I feel a little bit closer to home.

Water security for all

Many people may not realize it, but only about 5 percent of usable water in California is visible; the rest is underground. With access to surface water curtailed because of a five-year drought, many of the state’s biggest water users – farms and cities – have relied on groundwater pumping as a last resort. This has drawn down aquifers to dangerously low levels, and has left some rural communities without any water at all.  Read More »

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How California farmers can help salmon survive, and what’s in it for them

California's Chinook salmon are large fish that can grow up to 58 inches in length and weigh up to 129 pounds. But most salmon do not grow this large, especially in drought conditions where they lack sufficient habitat. (Credit: seafoodwatch.org)

California’s Chinook salmon are large fish that can grow up to 58 inches in length and weigh up to 129 pounds. But most salmon do not grow this large, especially in drought conditions, lacking sufficient habitat. (Credit: seafoodwatch.org)

Already an endangered species, California salmon populations have reached record lows.

Fisheries officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that just 3 percent of this generation of winter-run Chinook salmon survived in the Sacramento River. This is a record low survival rate – more than 10 times worse than the survival rate before the California drought.

How does drought affect salmon?

Salmon at any stage need cold water to survive, and severe drought conditions have put a chokehold on the state’s water supply, which relies on snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Without this snow melt, there is less cold water flowing into California’s waterways, creating higher than normal water temperatures in the Sacramento River.

But it’s not just the lack of cold water that’s affecting salmon populations. They also lack sufficient habitat to grow and thrive. Even if the drought ended today, they would still be in peril without adequate habitat. Read More »

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How “fertigation” is helping this citrus grower beat the drought

WP_20150922_010A common misperception is that citrus season is in the summer, but peak citrus season is actually happening right now.

California grew over 90 percent of U.S. lemons last season, but the severe drought in 2015 caused a 9 percent dip in domestic lemon production compared to the previous growing season. This meant higher costs for farmers, consumers – and the planet.

In honor of peak citrus season, I asked Bakersfield citrus grower John S. Gless how he’s getting more crop per drop of fertilizer and water through “fertigation,” why efficiency and sustainability practices are good investments, and why land stewardship is a core part of farming. Read More »

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How 2015 set the table for major agricultural and environmental success in 2016

agricultureIn 2015, U.S. agriculture proved to be a willing and powerful partner in the path to sustainability. We’ve seen farmers, ranchers and food companies make major headway in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving soil health, restoring habitat for at-risk wildlife and protecting freshwater supplies.

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

  • Approval of the first carbon offset protocol for crops in a cap-and-trade market (for U.S. rice growers), followed by approval of a grasslands protocol and a huge investment from USDA to develop a fertilizer protocol. These protocols reward farmers for conservation measures that reduce emissions and offer businesses new opportunities to offset the environmental impacts from their operations.
  • Launch of the innovative SUSTAIN platform throughout the United Suppliers agricultural retailer network. SUSTAIN, developed in coordination with EDF, trains ag retailers in best practices for sustainable farming and aims to enroll 10 million acres in the program by 2020. So far, over 300 sales representatives in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Ohio have attended training. And food companies interested in making SUSTAIN a feature of their sustainable sourcing work include Campbell’s, Unilever, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Smithfield.
  • A “not warranted” listing decision for sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, due in large part to ranchers’ commitments to develop and implement conservation solutions for the bird. Habitat exchanges – a solution developed by EDF and partners in agriculture and industry – are now available in Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming for landowners to earn new revenue for protecting and enhancing greater sage-grouse habitat.
  • Release of Colorado’s first-ever water plan to ensure the health and vitality of the state’s streams, rivers, communities and wildlife – without harming farmers. The plan addresses development of financial mechanisms to incentivize participation in alternative water transfer mechanisms and subsidize agricultural water system optimization. This innovative water planning can now be a model for other water-stressed communities.

So what lies ahead for 2016? We asked our experts to share their thoughts and wishes for the New Year. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, Climate Resilience, ecosystems, fertilizer, Habitat Exchange, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture, western water, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Why almond lovers can breathe easy again

It’s been a tough year for the almond. Vilified and beaten down, the nut has come to symbolize the California drought. While the reasons for and solutions to the drought are complicated and nuanced, the almond’s reputation has nonetheless suffered.

Meanwhile, farmers across the board are under increasing pressure – from regulatory requirements and increasing consumer demand for transparency – to modify their fertilizer application practices and thereby reduce nitrogen losses to the air and water.

Fortunately, there’s good reason for the almond to cheer up – a new Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) from the California Department of Food & Agriculture will support the state’s almond growers in their ongoing efforts to make nut production more sustainable, without sacrificing yields. Read More »

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Walnut grower Craig McNamara on water banking, hedgerows, and the birds and the bees

Craig McNamara on his farm in Winters, California.

Craig McNamara on his farm in Winters, California.

Craig McNamara embodies agricultural leadership in California. He has farmed a 450-acre organic walnut orchard in Winters, California for the past 35 years. He’s been an innovator in implementing conservation practices on his land that both enhance wildlife and benefit his farming operation. He’s also the president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, and an influential sustainable agriculture educator.

I’ve known Craig for about 10 years and have had the honor of serving with him on the State Board for the last two. I spoke with him about how he integrates farming with ecology and his plan for dealing with potential El Niño rains. Read More »

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