Too many Californians lack safe drinking water – op-ed co-authored by Secretary Ross urges legislature to take action

From the Sacramento Bee

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and California State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus 

When we read about drinking water problems like those in Flint, Mich., it’s easy to think that would never happen here. But the unfortunate fact is that many local water systems in California are failing to provide safe drinking water to their customers through no fault of their own.

In roughly 300 communities, from Trinidad to Tulare and Riverside to Oceanside, tap water has tested high for arsenic, nitrates, uranium and other chemicals that can cause learning disabilities, miscarriages, birth defects, and cancer. Right now, hundreds of thousands of Californians lack access to clean water for drinking, bathing and cooking. Children and the elderly are at the highest risk.

Since California passed the Human Right to Water Act in 2012, the state has made some important strides to address this crisis. Using funds from Proposition 1 and other sources, we have provided hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans to help build new water treatment plants and other infrastructure in disadvantaged communities. And we’ve consolidated smaller systems in communities like East Porterville, where clean water now flows into hundreds of homes that were without it.

But despite years of effort, we still face a fundamental problem that stops us from helping many Californians. Many smaller water systems lack adequate resources to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance of modern treatment facilities. Bond funds and loans can’t be used to cover these costs, but without these resources, small systems don’t qualify for the funding that is available to cover the capital costs of these projects.

It is a Catch-22 that has created a world of water “haves” and “have nots” in the fifth largest economy in the world.

The Legislature has an opportunity to end this crisis once and for all. The governor’s proposed budget includes a new Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund created from fees on fertilizer, dairies and livestock, and a fee of less than a dollar a month assessed on water bills. A bipartisan and diverse alliance of farmers, disadvantaged communities, public health advocates and water systems supports the proposal – as do the vast majority of Californians according to a recent Water Foundation poll.

The new fund will create a modest state safety net to cover urgently needed updates to out-of-compliance water systems. It will facilitate the consolidation of small, financially struggling water systems with larger, more stable ones or with a group of communities that can find an economy of scale. And most critical, it will help cover ongoing water treatment costs, providing the last piece of the puzzle for small systems that are currently unable to get grants and loans and hire qualified managers.

Some people argue general fund dollars or enforcement fines should cover these costs. Let’s be clear: Existing funds would not provide the kind of multi-year funding guarantee needed to secure capital financing and maintain critical water infrastructure 24 hours a day. The proposed dedicated funding source will not compete with other general fund needs and will provide the state with essential infrastructure investment and public health protection over time.

Using fees to pay for the state’s basic needs makes good sense. We fund rural internet broadband service through fees on our cell phone bills and low-income heating and cooling assistance through fees on our gas and electric bills. The proposed drinking water fee of less than a dollar a month has the same clear connection to addressing a critical need – and costs even less.

As public servants, it is our job to champion the concerns of ordinary Californians and deliver life’s basic necessities. That is why we are urging members of California Legislature to approve the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund this session.

Every month we fail to provide this funding is another month too many California families have to choose between buying bottled water and taking their chances with toxic taps. California can do better, but we need the right tools to do so.

Link to article

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Rachael O’Brien named Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs at CDFA

Secretary Ross administered the oath of office today to Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs Rachael O’Brien, who was promoted from the position of assistant secretary. She joined CDFA in January of this year. “Rachael has been a great addition to the CDFA team,” said Secretary Ross. “From day one she jumped right in with a great grasp of the issues and a willingness to get up to speed quickly through hard work, good listening skills, and lots of questions!”

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Carbon Farming coming to Central Coast – from The Bottom Line

Note – The Bottom Line is the student newspaper at UC Santa Barbara. 

By Tanner Walker

Carbon ranching is coming to Santa Barbara County, but farmers aren’t growing carbon — they’re putting it back into the ground. With the help of compost and cattle, native grasses can sequester organic carbon, enriching the soil and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

For example, a single acre of grazed grasslands can remove the equivalent of 3.9 tons of CO2 each year, according to a compost application plan outlined by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

According to the Community Energy Council of Santa Barbara, 270,000 acres in the county are suitable for compost application. Even if only 15 percent of the available land received a single dusting of compost, their analysis “shows that the increased sequestration could offset all of the greenhouse gas emissions from the county’s agricultural sector.”

The 8,000 -acre Chamberlin Ranch in Los Olivos is currently home to carbon ranching test sites from 12 partners including UC Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District, and the Cachuma Resource Conservation District.

For the farm managers, Russell Chamberlin and his cousin Mary Heyden, adding a top layer of compost enriches the soil, provides more food for their cattle, and helps their business adapt to a changing climate.

“Weather systems have changed dramatically, more and more every year,” said Heyden in an interview with the Santa Barbara Independent. “In this area, with compost, the land stays cooler and wetter,” growing more robust grasses.

Chamberlin worked and went to school in northern California, where carbon ranching via compost has been well tested. “Work in Marin on compost on rangeland had generated a lot of excitement and attention … I got interested in making the ranch a learning site for these practices,” he said in an interview with the Santa Barbara Independent.

The Marin Carbon Project was started by a ranch owner whose pastures turned into a weedy mess after his cattle stopped grazing. After successful results from returning cattle herds to the farm, the owners began investigating other ways to enrich the soil and bring back native grasses, including carbon ranching via compost coverage. In a test area covered with compost, they found 45-50 percent more carbon was sequestered compared to the control area.

Adding compost greatly increases carbon sequestration, but it has other benefits that farmers are more concerned with. Soil in compost-covered areas stays cooler and holds more water than untreated areas, extending the grass growing season, reducing the need for irrigation, and providing more food for cattle.

While herds of cattle do benefit from the increased forage that compost provides, their presence is an essential part of increasing carbon sequestration.

Read more here


Posted in Climate Change, Climate Smart Agriculture, Environment, Healthy soils | 1 Comment

Governor Brown Signs Legislation Establishing Statewide Water Efficiency Goals

SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today signed SB 606 by Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and AB 1668 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) to help the state better prepare for droughts and climate change by establishing statewide water efficiency standards.

“In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely. We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water,” said Governor Brown.

SB 606 and AB 1668 establish guidelines for efficient water use and a framework for the implementation and oversight of the new standards, which must be in place by 2022. The two bills strengthen the state’s water resiliency in the face of future droughts with provisions that include:

  • Establishing an indoor, per person water use goal of 55 gallons per day until 2025, 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and 50 gallons beginning in 2030.
  • Creating incentives for water suppliers to recycle water.
  • Requiring both urban and agricultural water suppliers to set annual water budgets and prepare for drought.

“This is another important step in the Legislature’s focused effort to reengineer water policy away from crisis management and toward a 21st century approach. I want to thank the Governor and his staff for their creative vision, and my colleagues in both houses for their hard work to bring this across the finish line,” said Senator Hertzberg.

“Governor Brown challenged every Californian to embrace water efficiency during the drought, and with his signature on AB 1668, we’ll have the state working collaboratively with local governments and urban water suppliers to put in place water efficiency standards that will help every community focus on sustainability. It’s a balanced approach that puts efficiency first and gives water agencies the flexibility to embrace innovation and tailor their policies to meet the unique needs of their community,” said Assemblymember Friedman.

Today’s legislative action builds on Governor Brown’s ongoing efforts to make water conservation a way of life in California. The state responded to the most recent drought with emergency actions and investments and the advancement of the California Water Action Plan, the Administration’s five-year blueprint for more reliable, resilient water systems to prepare for climate change and population growth.

For full text of the bills signed today, visit

See the original release on the Governor’s site here.

Posted in Climate Change, Drought | 1 Comment

“Imagine If” podcast project pairs Secretary Ross with a promising young ag leader

Podcast to air this summer will feature a dynamic conversation between generations of ag leadership about climate change, drought, and how farmers and ranchers are overcoming challenges.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (left) and young ag leader Bailey Morrell toured the Morrell family ranch with on-site producer Matt Fidler to record an extensive conversation for the Imagine If podcast project.

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross spent a rewarding afternoon recently with young rancher, student, and up-and-coming ag leader Bailey Morrell at her family’s ranch near Willows in Northern California. As Bailey led a tour of the property’s cattle pens, nut orchards and hay fields, the pair recorded an extensive conversation that will be aired later this summer as part of the Imagine If podcast project. CDFA’s Planting Seeds blog will feature the podcast as soon as it’s available.

“Meeting Bailey reinforced my deeply-held belief that the future of agriculture is in very good hands,” said Secretary Ross. “This young woman is enormously impressive. She has a genuine understanding of the complex range of agricultural issues and an innovative approach to problem-solving. We can expect big things from her in the years ahead.”    


The Imagine If podcast series is a project of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), and National Geographic Explorer. Each episode captures an intergenerational conversation between youth (ages 12-22) and an expert in an environmental field— from climate change to biodiversity to water quality.


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New Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force formed

The Arizona and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements, the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers, and other stakeholders in the produce industry are pleased to announce the formation of a Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force designed to assess and address issues associated with recent foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to consumption of leafy greens.

California and Arizona produce over 50 billion servings of leafy greens every year to American consumers.  The leafy greens community shares a common goal to strengthen the way our food is grown, harvested and distributed.  The purpose of this Task Force is to sharpen food safety systems through the entire supply chain.

Task Force Membership will include representatives of:

  • Growers from Arizona, California and other production regions
  • Shippers and processors from Arizona, California and other production regions
  • Produce industry and related trade associations
  • State and local government agencies
  • Scientists and researchers
  • Consumer advocacy
  • The buyer community

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will be involved on a collaborative basis, serving as technical and informational advisors to the task force.

For more information

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Virulent Newcastle Disease update

Bird owners in Southern California are responding to outreach provided over the past several days related to virulent Newcastle disease (VND), and have started reporting sick birds. VND has now been confirmed in a number of flocks of backyard birds in San Bernardino County. CDFA is working closely with USDA to respond to these findings, and is investigating any potential links between these cases and a case recently identified in Los Angeles County.

Bird owners are urged to practice biosecurity to help protect their birds from VND and other infectious diseases. These include simple steps like washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering a poultry area; cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before moving them off the property; and isolating any birds returning from shows for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock.

In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to California’s Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-BIRD (2473).

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CDFA Border Stations chipping in on invasive mussels prevention over holiday weekend.

California agencies combatting the spread of invasive quagga and zebra mussels remind boaters to remain cautious over Memorial Day weekend.

Quagga and zebra mussels are invasive freshwater mussels native to Eurasia. They multiply quickly, encrust watercraft and infrastructure, alter water quality and the aquatic food web and ultimately impact native and sport fish communities. These mussels spread from one waterbody to another by attaching to watercraft, equipment and nearly anything that has been in an infested waterbody.

Invisible to the naked eye, microscopic juveniles are spread from infested waterbodies by water that is entrapped in boat engines, bilges, live-wells and buckets. Quagga mussels have infested 33 waterways in Southern California and zebra mussels have infested two waterways in San Benito County.

To prevent the spread of these mussels and other aquatic invasive species, people launching vessels at any waterbody are subject to watercraft inspections and are strongly encouraged to clean, drain and dry their motorized and non-motorized boats, including personal watercraft, and any equipment that contacts the water before and after use.

Boaters are urged to take the following steps both before traveling to and before leaving a waterbody to prevent spreading invasive mussels, improve the efficiency of the inspection experience and safeguard California waterways:

  • CLEAN — inspect exposed surfaces and remove all plants and organisms,
  • DRAIN — all water, including water contained in lower outboard units, live-wells and bait buckets, and
  • DRY — allow the watercraft to thoroughly dry between launches. Watercraft should be kept dry for at least five days in warm weather and up to 30 days in cool weather.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has developed a brief video demonstrating the ease of implementing the clean, drain and dry prevention method, which can be viewed at In addition, a detailed guide to cleaning vessels of invasive mussels is available on the CDFW’s webpage at Additional information is available on the Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) website at

Travelers are also advised to be prepared for inspections at California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Border Protection Stations. Over the past nine years, more than 1 million watercraft entering California have been inspected at the Border Protection Stations. Inspections, which can also be conducted by CDFW and California State Parks, include a check of boats and personal watercraft, as well as trailers and all onboard items. Contaminated vessels and equipment are subject to decontamination, rejection, quarantine or impoundment.

Quagga and zebra mussels can attach to and damage virtually any submerged surface. They can:

  • Ruin a boat engine by blocking the cooling system and causing it to overheat
  • Jam a boat’s steering equipment, putting occupants and others at risk
  • Require frequent scraping and repainting of boat hulls
  • Colonize all underwater substrates such as boat ramps, docks, lines and other underwater surfaces, causing them to require constant cleaning
  • Impose large expenses to owners

A multi-agency effort that includes CDFW, DBW, CDFA and the California Department of Water Resources has been leading an outreach campaign to alert the public to the quagga and zebra mussel threats. A toll-free hotline, (866) 440-9530, is available for those seeking information on quagga or zebra mussels.

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Citrus impact to economy: $7 billion – from the Business Journal

By Frank Lopez

A new study commissioned by the Citrus Research Board (CRB) values the total economic impact of California’s citrus industry at $7.117 billion.

Bruce Babcock, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside, conducted the research and his findings quantified the impact of citrus on the state economy.

“California citrus is a major contributor to the economic value of the state’s agricultural sector and is much larger than just the value of its sales,” Babcock said. “Estimated full-time equivalent California citrus jobs totaled 21,674 in 2016-17, and estimated wages paid by the industry during that same timeframe totaled $452 million.”

According to Babcock, the California citrus industry added $1.695 billion to the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016.

Babcock found that for the years of 2016-17, the total direct value of California citrus production was $3.389 billion. Economic activity from related business that supplied materials and services to the citrus industry generated an additional $1.263 billion, and on top of that, $2.464 billion in economic activity generated by household spending income that they received from California’s industry brought the total economic impact to $7.117 billion.

The study revealed that 79 percent of the state’s citrus was packed for the fresh market and 21 percent was processed in 2016-17, a big significance, as fresh market fruit is valued higher than processed fruit.

California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen commented that the report sheds some positive news about the state but insists that farmers and growers should be cautious of a deadly crop disease epidemic.

“This enthusiasm must be tempered by the fact that huanglongbing (HLB) can destroy all this in a matter of a year if the partnerships that exist between the industry and government cannot thwart the spread of this insidious disease,” Nelsen said. “Reading how that would affect our family farmers, employees and the state is sobering.”

The study also looked into the possible impact of a potential 20 percent reduction in California citrus or yield, or a combination of both, from increased costs related to government regulations, and crop diseases.

According to Babcock, such a reduction could cost 7,350 jobs and reduce California’s GDP by $501 million in direct, indirect and induced impacts.

Link to story

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What will we be eating in 2050? Farmers weigh several factors – from Grist

By Nathanael Johnson


Chris Sayer pushed his way through avocado branches and grasped a denuded limb. It was stained black, as if someone had ladled tar over its bark. In February, the temperature had dropped below freezing for three hours, killing the limb. The thick leaves had shriveled and fallen away, exposing the green avocados, which then burned in the sun. Sayer estimated he’d lost one out of every 20 avocados on his farm in Ventura, just 50 miles north of Los Angeles, but he counts himself lucky.

“If that freeze was one degree colder, or one hour longer, we would have had major damage,” he said.

Avocado trees start to die when the temperature falls below 28 degrees or rises above 100 degrees. If the weather turns cold and clammy during the short period in the spring when the flowers bloom, bees won’t take to the air and fruits won’t develop. The trees also die if water runs dry, or if too many salts accumulate in the soil, or if a new pest starts chewing on its leaves. “All of which is quite possible in the next few decades, as the climate shifts,” Sayer said.

The weather had been strange lately, Sayer told me. In the past year, Californians have lived through a historic drought, a massive wildfire that blotted out the sun, and a strangely warm winter followed by that unseasonable freeze. When I visited in April, his lemon trees were already loaded with ripe fruit — that usually doesn’t happen until June. “Things are screwy,” Sayer said.

From the vineyards of the north coast to the orange groves of Southern California, farmers like Sayer have been reeling from the weird weather.


It might feel like we’re peering into the distant future when we hear that by 2050, temperatures may very well climb 4 degrees, seas could rise a foot, and droughts and floods will become more common. But for farmers planting trees they hope will bear fruit 25 years from now, that seemingly distant future has to be reckoned with now.

A lot of the country’s tree crops grow in California, which produces two-thirds of the fruits and nuts for the United States. The same is true of grape vines, which bear abundant fruit for about 25 years (they slow down after that, but can keep going for hundreds of years). It’s in large part because so many farmers are making these long-term gambles on orchard crops that a recent scientific paper noted: “Agricultural production in California is highly sensitive to climate change.”

Jay Famiglietti, the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, goes even further: “It’s a virtual certainty that California will get drier. I don’t think it’s a climate that’s conducive to orchard crops anymore.”

In other words, for anyone trying to make money off long-lived crops, climate change is already here. And yet new saplings are pushing out of the ground all over the state.

If these farmers were planting an annual crop, like cilantro, they’d be making a bet on the weather for the next 45 days. But they’re planting trees, which means making a bet on the next 40 years.

After years of putting it off, Sayer is about to place such a four-decade bet by planting a bunch of new avocado trees. There’s no way Sayer can foresee oncoming climate disaster, if that’s what’s hurtling toward the land his family has worked for the past 130 years in Ventura. He can see just a little bit of what might be coming — as if he’s straining to glimpse signs of danger while blinkered. When I asked him how it felt, he said: “Like I’m about to cross a very busy road with my hood pulled over my head.”

When Katherine Jarvis-Shean was a doctoral candidate researching the decline of cold winters a few years back, she thought more farmers should be freaking out. “I used to think, ‘Why aren’t you guys more worried about this? It’s going to be the end of the world.’”

After all, many fruit and nut trees require a good winter chill to bear fruit. But after spending a few years as an extension agent for the University of California — working directly with farmers and translating science into techniques they can apply on the land — she understands better. It comes down to this: Farmers have a ton of concerns, and the climate is just one of them.

“If you decide what to plant based on climate, but then can’t make the lease payment, that’s not sustainable,” Jarvis-Shean said.

If you are worried about water running out in 15 years, you might think it’s a good idea to cut down half the state’s almond groves — but if those almond trees are still putting money in your pockets, that wouldn’t make sense until the killer drought hits. That’s the crux of the matter for Sayer, and other farmers I interviewed. They’re concerned about the changing climate, but they always come up with ingenious plans to adapt to bad weather. It’s much harder for them to adapt to an overdrawn bank account.

Sayer grows mostly lemons right now, but they’re not long for this world. “You can see these lemon trees are getting a little rangy looking,” Sayer said, gesturing toward a leafless branch. “This is going to be their last harvest, then they’ve got a date with the chipper.”

Sayer knows lemons. He knows how to coddle them in old age, how to nudge them to produce more, how to keep them alive when rains fail, how to protect them from aphids and snails and scale insects and the nematodes in the ground. But this land has provided a home to a citrus orchard for 70 years, and each year more pests accumulate to suck the life from the trees. So Sayer needs to move on from lemons, and he’s settled on avocados.

From a climate perspective, the leather-skinned fruit are a risky choice. Avocado trees like their surroundings not too hot and not too cold, and they always need water. One study estimated that climate change would hurt California avocado trees so much that the state’s production could be cut in half by 2050.

As the sun burned off the marine layer of clouds over the orchard, Sayer patiently laid out the reasoning that led him to plant avocado trees. He explained that climate poses risks that are easy for outsiders to see — when you’re reading about historic droughts in the newspaper and driving past acres of withered crops, it seems crazy to plant orchards. But farmers often have to contend with other risks that outweigh the danger of bad weather. Sayers puts them into three categories: climate risk, market risk, and execution risk.

If he were only worried about climate risk, Sayer said, he’d plant prickly pear. “They would grow in any post-apocalyptic hellscape you could imagine,” he said. But who would buy them?

Read more here


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