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Executive Summary for October 9th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on Oct. 9, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Despite Drought, Farms Doing Well as Fall Harvests Get in Gear

Farm revenues were up significantly in 2014 in many parts of California, even though thousands of acres were fallowed due to the drought.

In Stanislaus County, farm revenues jumped 20 percent and set a new record of $4.4 million. Madera County saw a similar large increase.

In San Diego County, farmers increased their acreage planted with strawberries by 76 percent.

The positive reports reflect how adaptable farmers can be amid disruptive weather conditions. When water is scarce, they turn to more valuable crops to make up for losses from reduced irrigated acreage or low-performing crops.

For example, in Stanislaus County, almonds surpassed milk as the number one crop.

Statewide, the dairy business was one gloomy category amid the drought. Production declined as ranchers were forced to pay more for animal feed because of the drought. But this marks another step in a long-term decline of the California dairy business, triggered in part by a shrinking market globally.

California has been the number one dairy state for many years, producing about one-fifth of the nation’s total dairy products. This year, the industry contracted by 3 percent in the state, while growing slightly nationwide, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“I think we have seen as high as the milk production is going to get,” said Eric Erba, chief strategy officer at California Dairies.

At a two-day forum earlier this week in Davis, a number of agricultural experts discussed the long-term future of agriculture in the state and California’s role in global food security.

One conclusion was that population growth and economic trends are likely to drive a desire for more meat, which consumers globally tend to want as their incomes rise with development and urbanization.

That is likely to increase water demand, since raising livestock is one of the most water-intensive agricultural endeavors.

A Beer Made from Wastewater

In other food news, a San Francisco Bay Area brewery has unveiled a beer made with recycled water. And let’s go a little further and be crystal clear: By recycled water, we mean treated sewage.

The recycled version of the Maverick’s Tunnel Vision IPA is a daring project that pushes the envelope of the still-fledgling recycled water industry in America.

“California is in a massive drought and we need creative solutions to address it,” Mavericks Brewery founder Lenny Mendonca told the San Francisco Business Times. “Beer has a long history, dating back to Medieval times, of helping to purify water … we wanted to rekindle that tradition and show that water can be recycled and used for drinking – even in the highest quality craft beer.”

The brewery teamed up with NASA, borrowing on the space agency’s long tradition of turning sewage into drinking water aboard spacecraft.

Back here on Earth, will people gulp down a beer made from wastewater? Time will tell. The brewery does not advertise the wastewater connection on its website. But in taste tests, Mendonca says, customers actually prefer the recycled brew over others.

San Francisco Will Require New Construction to Reuse Water

In other water recycling news, the city of San Francisco has revised its development codes to require new construction projects to build in water recycling plumbing. It is the first city in the nation to do so.

The rules require projects larger than 250,000 square feet to include on-site treatment systems to make use of rainwater, gray water (which includes water from bathroom sinks, bathtubs and washing machines), black water (sewage), stormwater or foundation drainage (nuisance groundwater) to meet their needs for non-potable water.

The ordinance also requires smaller buildings of 40,000 square feet or more to assess their ability to reuse water. And in five years, the city will need to use non-potable water for all irrigation needs and cleaning of public spaces.

In short, large new buildings can no longer use pristine drinking water for things such as cooling towers, irrigation and toilet flushing.

“We’re trying to match the highest and best use for water with the quality of the resource,” said Paula Kehoe, director of water resources at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Top image: In this July 3, 2015 photo, tomatoes are harvested below dry hills in California’s Central Valley near Mettler, Calif. Some regions of the state are reporting robust farm revenues, despite the drought.

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