Read California storms help fill reservoirs but slow ag work from Capital Press
California storms help fill reservoirs but slow ag work
SACRAMENTO — Big rains in California have dumped more than a million acre-feet of water into the state’s reservoirs since Jan. 1 but this week stalled the Central Valley’s navel and mandarin orange harvests, state and industry officials say.
The storms had added 1.1 million acre-feet of water to California’s reservoirs by Jan. 9 with more to come, according to state officials, while prompting the opening of the Sacramento Weir — a flood-control bypass around the city — for the first time since 2006.
Shasta Lake, the Central Valley Project’s main reservoir, was at 81 percent of capacity as of Jan. 11 while Lake Oroville, the chief reservoir for the State Water Project, was at 74 percent of capacity, according to the Department of Water Resources.
As of Jan. 11, California’s snow-water content had vaulted to 158 percent of normal statewide after being just 70 percent of normal a week earlier. The southern Sierra Nevada’s snowpack was at 187 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the DWR’s California Data Exchange Center.
This week saw a one-two punch of “atmospheric river” mega-storms aimed at California, with the first on Jan. 7-8 bringing rain, heavy winds and local flooding and the second on Jan. 10-11 expected to pile as much as 6 feet of snow on the mountains, according to the National Weather Service.
But the rain wasn’t all good news for farmers.
More than 2 inches of rain in the Central Valley’s prime citrus growing region has made the ground too wet to move equipment and increased the risk that wet fruit could be blemished, said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter, Calif.-based California Citrus Mutual.
While the rain is welcome after four years of drought, the timing has been a little frustrating for growers, Nelsen acknowledged.
“We’re in the middle of a good harvest,” he said. “This is when we start our exports to Korea and Japan, and the international scene is quite attractive right now. It (the weather) affects volume.”
Another concern for citrus growers is if temperatures suddenly drop after the rains clear out and water still on the fruit freezes, causing surface blemishes that force growers to destroy the fruit, Nelsen said. But that wasn’t in the forecast as of Jan. 10, he said.
Most of California has been soggy since New Year’s Day, with some valley areas getting as much as 5 inches of rain in the first week of 2017 and as much as 14 inches of rain falling in some mountain communities, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
On farms, the rain has helped the growth of planted grains and field crops continue at an excellent rate, NASS reports, but it has brought field work to a standstill.
At Shasta College in Redding, Calif., frequent storms have prevented the farm from planting some of its grain fields, farm manager B.J. Macfarlane said. The farm grows all of its hay and grains to avoid having to purchase feed for its livestock.
“We’re not complaining, but it’s messed up our farming, the water coming like it has,” Macfarlane said. “But I’ve planted grain in January and February and been just fine.”
Fruit and nut growers have been pruning orchards and shredding the brush as the weather has allowed, but vineyard operations had to stop most post-harvest field activities because of the rain, NASS reported.
But no major damage to fruit and nut orchards because of high winds or flooding had been reported, local Farm Bureau and University of California Cooperative Extension officials said.
“The water, so far, is a good thing here,” Fresno County Farm Bureau executive director Ryan Jacobsen said in an email.
Many orchardists took steps ahead of time to prevent large-scale orchard damage from wind and flooding, including applying zinc in the fall to help drop the leaves and making sure they have good drainage, said Dani Lightle, a UCCE farm adviser in Orland, Calif.
The biggest worry for nut growers is developing root rot from standing water, she said.
“Still water is worse than moving water,” she said.