Rice crop will suffer from drought
Pat Kennedy is not a popular man.
As the water operations superintendent for Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, Kennedy had the displeasure Monday of reinforcing what rice farmers already knew — that the 2014 drought could be the worst natural disaster for California crops in history.
The lack of rain and snow this winter in Northern California is worse than the dry times of 1976 and 1977, when another long ridge of high pressure kept winter storms from reaching the state.
"When the well's dry, the well's dry," said Kennedy, referring to Lake Shasta, from which water flows to irrigate a variety of crops under GCID contracts.
As of Sunday, Lake Shasta was at 54 percent of average, and 36 percent of capacity, and suffering the most will be rice, alfalfa and irrigated pasture land, Kennedy said.
About 45 Northern Sacramento Valley rice farmers gathered Monday in Glenn for their annual growers meeting, one of four sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension.
Two remaining meetings will be held Friday in Colusa and Yuba City.
Without sufficient rainfall in February and March, Kennedy said farmers could face more than just the 25 percent reduction in water required by their settlement contracts during dry years.
Even now, Kennedy said the Bureau of Reclamation is being "tight-lipped" about exactly how much water might be available.
At best, GCID is looking at delivering about 618,750 acre-feet of water to this season's crops, down from 770,000 in 2013 and 696,000 in 2012.
Farmers say even with the pool of rain expected in from Hawaii this week, they are not optimist that there will be sufficient water to plant even 75 percent of their fields.
The needs of irrigated crops fall behind those for fish, wildlife refuges and other social and environmental concerns, and competition for water is far greater than what water users had to compete with in the 1970s, said Willows farmer John Amaro.
"I will be lucky if I get 50 percent of my water," Amaro said after the meeting.
Amaro, a former Glenn County supervisor, expects the 2014 drought to have far-reaching effects, and could be devastating to the state and the community, which relies so heavily on an agriculture economy.