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California Agriculture, Vol. 54, No.2

Fight or flight: Hard choices for natural resources
Cover:  Snow geese forage in a harvested corn field in the Sacramento Delta. While swelling numbers of these birds are a problem in the Midwest and the Canadian Arctic, snow geese are stable in California. At one time, they were in serious decline. The Central Valley is the most important winter stopover along the Pacific Flyway for millions of birds. The struggle to preserve natural resources such as water, land, and wildlife while maintaining a strong agricultural economy, will require Californians to make difficult choices in the future. Will we fight to strike a balance, or allow our resources to slip away?Cover photo by B. Moose Peterson/WRP.
March-April 2000
Volume 54, Number 2

Peer-reviewed research and review articles

Is California's future hydraulically sustainable?
by Richard E. Howitt
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Because hydraulic societies are ecologically unstable, California should consider a more decentralized, resilient water-distribution model.
The term “hydraulic society” describes the ancient cities and social systems that relied on irrigated agriculture, such as Egypt's Nile Valley. For 5,000 years, the annual cycle of floods replenished the Nile region's soil and nutrients, eliminating the need for complex canal systems such as those found in the Sumerian and Mesopotamian regions. California is the first hydraulic society that is rapidly developing into a postindustrial economy; this change will require the partial re-allocation of our water resources. California should attempt to move toward a decentralized, resilient “ancient Egyptian” model of water allocation rather than continue with a centralized but less responsive “Mesopotamian” model. A hydraulic society can be destabilized by drought conditions, degradation of water quality, and the inability of distribution systems to adapt to social or economic changes. Although hydraulic societies are ecologically unstable due to their modification and specialization of the ecosystem, changing the system of social feedback can compensate for this rigidity.
Restoring aquatic ecosystems is a matter of values
by Peter B. Moyle
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Will Californians make sacrifices to protect aquatic ecosystems? The CALFED program demonstrates the importance of values in the state's water wars.
Californians today seem willing to make sacrifices to protect the environment, including paying more — directly or indirectly — for water. There are limits to this willingness, however, and these limits are determined by a combination of underlying value systems and the perceived relationships between costs and benefits. A number of interrelated values, economic and noneconomic, can be invoked to justify devoting water to the protection of fish and other aquatic life. These values can be incorporated into strategies for protecting natural systems, ranging from protecting species to managing large ecosystems. The application of multiple and often conflicting values lies at the heart of CALFED, a multiagency effort to provide assured water supplies to farms and urban areas while also protecting and enhancing aquatic species and habitats. The CALFED Strategic Plan for Eco-system Restoration for the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem is an example of the kind of broad-based strategy that must be implemented if we are sincere about maintaining natural systems for the benefit of humans and the rest of California's biota in the 21st century and beyond.
Nonprofit organizations gaining influence
by Thomas J. Graff
Full text HTML  | PDF  
Biodiversity is critical to future health of California's ecology and economy
by Barbara Allen-Diaz
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Organisms provide direct economic value to Californians as well as recreation and a cleaner environment, but our biodiversity is declining rapidly.
Each individual organism plays a role in the birth-to-death cycle of this planet. Ecologists often refer to the web of life, describing the interconnectedness of all organisms and environments. Of California's more than 4,800 native plant species, 29% are only found here. Each species is the repository of an immense amount of genetic information. Organisms provide direct economic value to humans in the form of marketable products such as food and medicine, as well as services like recreation, beauty and clean water. But civilization has been altering the Earth's environment and the composition of its species, and consuming resources at rates faster than during any known era in history. At the same time, we are poorly equipped to evaluate the environmental and economic trade-offs between species as traditional commodities, as providers of ecosystem services and as players with largely unknown roles in life on Earth. New institutional frameworks and incentives must be developed in the 21st century for making informed and wise choices about the environment. Such decision-making frameworks should ensure the protection of fundamental sources of food, clean water and habitat that are Earth's life-support system.
California forest policy must bend toward the new social order
by Jeff Romm
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Once the exclusive domain of powerful elites, forestry policy is being transformed to meet the multifaceted, ecologically sensitive needs of the state.
The template for California's forest policies emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, a time of increasing federal power, global expansion and hard social distinctions. Of the state's 2 million or so people, few were eligible to vote and fewer still were interested in forests. Forest policy was the arena of a relatively small group. Today a similar, relatively small group controls California forests, but the political base for their control is eroding. California's diverse and democratic society of 35 million people no longer conforms to the wishes of any forest elite, be it scientific, governmental, industrial or environmental. Yet the state's forest elites continue to arm-wrestle as though the old social structure still held. California citizens, meanwhile, have organized hundreds of watershed groups in neighborhoods and communities statewide, supporting goals such as salmon recovery, urban access and local economic opportunity. These actions represent a massive spontaneous change in political culture. The simple choices of 25 or 50 years ago, of preservation versus use, public versus private, no longer encompass the interests of California's population. By 2025, a highly diversified landscape of forest institutions, management techniques and ecological conditions will soften current jurisdictional distinctions. The people who come to the table to discuss forest policy will no longer be just the elites who shaped forest policy in the 20th century. Whether we are better off or not will depend on how aggressively the state pursues the innovations necessary to sustain cohesive and resilient forest systems serving larger public interests.
Soil salinity poses challenges for sustainable agriculture and wildlife
by John Letey
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
The future of farming in the Imperial Valley and western San Joaquin Valley will depend on creative solutions to soil salinization.
If soil becomes too saline, crop productivity falls. In California, the Imperial Valley and western San Joaquin Valley are major areas of concern where salinity can harm agricultural productivity. The Imperial Valley has achieved salt balance by discharging salty drainage water into the Salton Sea, but this practice threatens fish and possibly birds. Without an avenue to remove salts from the western San Joaquin Valley, long-term agricultural productivity is jeopardized unless an in-valley sink, such as evaporation ponds, can be used to accumulate the salts. However, high selenium concentrations in drainage-water evaporation ponds can be hazardous to birds. The future of agriculture and wildlife in both valleys can be enhanced by cooperative, innovative approaches between government, growers and environmental advocates. For example, water allocated for agriculture can be used to construct highly productive “compensation habitats,” which can attract high concentrations of nesting birds and offset negative impacts to wildlife at the Salton Sea and West Side evaporation ponds.
Trace elements slowly accumulating, depleting in soils
by Andrew C. Chang, Albert L. Page
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Ongoing monitoring and research will be needed to maintain the correct balance of beneficial or potentially toxic trace elements in agricultural soils.
Certain trace elements are essential for humans, plants and animals, but become toxic at higher concentrations. For many trace elements, the margin of safety between beneficial and harmful is narrow. Deficiencies of trace elements are common plant nutritional problems in crop production. While most trace elements in soils are beneficial to plant growth, a buildup of trace elements may have a negative effect on whoever eats the plant. Trace elements may also degrade water quality downstream. Some are added to soils from the atmosphere, irrigation water and agricultural inputs including chemicals, biosolids, manures and compost. On cropland, important trace elements may also be depleted from the soil profile through leaching, crop harvest, surface runoff and volatilization. We calculated the levels of trace-element accumulation and depletion on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley. Although the accumulation of chromium, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, copper and zinc on cropland will increase significantly over time, the rate of accumulation is slow and the added trace elements are not likely to interfere with farming in the foreseeable future. At the same time, arsenic, boron, molybdenum and selenium are being depleted from West Side soils. Elements removed in drainage water are now accumulating in evaporation ponds. To ensure desirable levels, water and soil sources of these elements must be monitored, and research into methods for limiting their accumulation and depletion should continue.
The price of water: Market-based strategies are needed to cope with scarcity
by David Sunding
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Water markets, economic efficiency and conjunctive use may be the keys to resolving California's water-management crisis.
Growing population and environmental concerns are increasing the demand for California's water resources. Historically, the state has dealt with shortages by expanding supply. In the coming years, new strategies will be required to allocate water among existing and emerging uses and to create additional supplies by nontraditional means. Three techniques will form the foundation of water management in the next era: water markets, water-use efficiency and active conjunctive use. Such methods establish prices for water that more accurately reflect costs, encouraging conservation and more efficient use patterns.
Recycled water is a promising new supply source
by Henry J. Vaux
Full text HTML  | PDF  

Editorial, News, Letters and Science Briefs

Critical choices ahead for natural resources
by Henry Vaux
Full text HTML  | PDF  
Q&A: Global warming: No easy answers
by F. Sherwood Rowland
Full text HTML  | PDF  
Webmaster Email: wsuckow@ucanr.edu

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California Agriculture, Vol. 54, No.2

Fight or flight: Hard choices for natural resources
Cover:  Snow geese forage in a harvested corn field in the Sacramento Delta. While swelling numbers of these birds are a problem in the Midwest and the Canadian Arctic, snow geese are stable in California. At one time, they were in serious decline. The Central Valley is the most important winter stopover along the Pacific Flyway for millions of birds. The struggle to preserve natural resources such as water, land, and wildlife while maintaining a strong agricultural economy, will require Californians to make difficult choices in the future. Will we fight to strike a balance, or allow our resources to slip away?Cover photo by B. Moose Peterson/WRP.
March-April 2000
Volume 54, Number 2

Peer-reviewed research and review articles

Is California's future hydraulically sustainable?
by Richard E. Howitt
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Because hydraulic societies are ecologically unstable, California should consider a more decentralized, resilient water-distribution model.
The term “hydraulic society” describes the ancient cities and social systems that relied on irrigated agriculture, such as Egypt's Nile Valley. For 5,000 years, the annual cycle of floods replenished the Nile region's soil and nutrients, eliminating the need for complex canal systems such as those found in the Sumerian and Mesopotamian regions. California is the first hydraulic society that is rapidly developing into a postindustrial economy; this change will require the partial re-allocation of our water resources. California should attempt to move toward a decentralized, resilient “ancient Egyptian” model of water allocation rather than continue with a centralized but less responsive “Mesopotamian” model. A hydraulic society can be destabilized by drought conditions, degradation of water quality, and the inability of distribution systems to adapt to social or economic changes. Although hydraulic societies are ecologically unstable due to their modification and specialization of the ecosystem, changing the system of social feedback can compensate for this rigidity.
Restoring aquatic ecosystems is a matter of values
by Peter B. Moyle
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Will Californians make sacrifices to protect aquatic ecosystems? The CALFED program demonstrates the importance of values in the state's water wars.
Californians today seem willing to make sacrifices to protect the environment, including paying more — directly or indirectly — for water. There are limits to this willingness, however, and these limits are determined by a combination of underlying value systems and the perceived relationships between costs and benefits. A number of interrelated values, economic and noneconomic, can be invoked to justify devoting water to the protection of fish and other aquatic life. These values can be incorporated into strategies for protecting natural systems, ranging from protecting species to managing large ecosystems. The application of multiple and often conflicting values lies at the heart of CALFED, a multiagency effort to provide assured water supplies to farms and urban areas while also protecting and enhancing aquatic species and habitats. The CALFED Strategic Plan for Eco-system Restoration for the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem is an example of the kind of broad-based strategy that must be implemented if we are sincere about maintaining natural systems for the benefit of humans and the rest of California's biota in the 21st century and beyond.
Nonprofit organizations gaining influence
by Thomas J. Graff
Full text HTML  | PDF  
Biodiversity is critical to future health of California's ecology and economy
by Barbara Allen-Diaz
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Organisms provide direct economic value to Californians as well as recreation and a cleaner environment, but our biodiversity is declining rapidly.
Each individual organism plays a role in the birth-to-death cycle of this planet. Ecologists often refer to the web of life, describing the interconnectedness of all organisms and environments. Of California's more than 4,800 native plant species, 29% are only found here. Each species is the repository of an immense amount of genetic information. Organisms provide direct economic value to humans in the form of marketable products such as food and medicine, as well as services like recreation, beauty and clean water. But civilization has been altering the Earth's environment and the composition of its species, and consuming resources at rates faster than during any known era in history. At the same time, we are poorly equipped to evaluate the environmental and economic trade-offs between species as traditional commodities, as providers of ecosystem services and as players with largely unknown roles in life on Earth. New institutional frameworks and incentives must be developed in the 21st century for making informed and wise choices about the environment. Such decision-making frameworks should ensure the protection of fundamental sources of food, clean water and habitat that are Earth's life-support system.
California forest policy must bend toward the new social order
by Jeff Romm
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Once the exclusive domain of powerful elites, forestry policy is being transformed to meet the multifaceted, ecologically sensitive needs of the state.
The template for California's forest policies emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, a time of increasing federal power, global expansion and hard social distinctions. Of the state's 2 million or so people, few were eligible to vote and fewer still were interested in forests. Forest policy was the arena of a relatively small group. Today a similar, relatively small group controls California forests, but the political base for their control is eroding. California's diverse and democratic society of 35 million people no longer conforms to the wishes of any forest elite, be it scientific, governmental, industrial or environmental. Yet the state's forest elites continue to arm-wrestle as though the old social structure still held. California citizens, meanwhile, have organized hundreds of watershed groups in neighborhoods and communities statewide, supporting goals such as salmon recovery, urban access and local economic opportunity. These actions represent a massive spontaneous change in political culture. The simple choices of 25 or 50 years ago, of preservation versus use, public versus private, no longer encompass the interests of California's population. By 2025, a highly diversified landscape of forest institutions, management techniques and ecological conditions will soften current jurisdictional distinctions. The people who come to the table to discuss forest policy will no longer be just the elites who shaped forest policy in the 20th century. Whether we are better off or not will depend on how aggressively the state pursues the innovations necessary to sustain cohesive and resilient forest systems serving larger public interests.
Soil salinity poses challenges for sustainable agriculture and wildlife
by John Letey
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
The future of farming in the Imperial Valley and western San Joaquin Valley will depend on creative solutions to soil salinization.
If soil becomes too saline, crop productivity falls. In California, the Imperial Valley and western San Joaquin Valley are major areas of concern where salinity can harm agricultural productivity. The Imperial Valley has achieved salt balance by discharging salty drainage water into the Salton Sea, but this practice threatens fish and possibly birds. Without an avenue to remove salts from the western San Joaquin Valley, long-term agricultural productivity is jeopardized unless an in-valley sink, such as evaporation ponds, can be used to accumulate the salts. However, high selenium concentrations in drainage-water evaporation ponds can be hazardous to birds. The future of agriculture and wildlife in both valleys can be enhanced by cooperative, innovative approaches between government, growers and environmental advocates. For example, water allocated for agriculture can be used to construct highly productive “compensation habitats,” which can attract high concentrations of nesting birds and offset negative impacts to wildlife at the Salton Sea and West Side evaporation ponds.
Trace elements slowly accumulating, depleting in soils
by Andrew C. Chang, Albert L. Page
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Ongoing monitoring and research will be needed to maintain the correct balance of beneficial or potentially toxic trace elements in agricultural soils.
Certain trace elements are essential for humans, plants and animals, but become toxic at higher concentrations. For many trace elements, the margin of safety between beneficial and harmful is narrow. Deficiencies of trace elements are common plant nutritional problems in crop production. While most trace elements in soils are beneficial to plant growth, a buildup of trace elements may have a negative effect on whoever eats the plant. Trace elements may also degrade water quality downstream. Some are added to soils from the atmosphere, irrigation water and agricultural inputs including chemicals, biosolids, manures and compost. On cropland, important trace elements may also be depleted from the soil profile through leaching, crop harvest, surface runoff and volatilization. We calculated the levels of trace-element accumulation and depletion on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley. Although the accumulation of chromium, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, copper and zinc on cropland will increase significantly over time, the rate of accumulation is slow and the added trace elements are not likely to interfere with farming in the foreseeable future. At the same time, arsenic, boron, molybdenum and selenium are being depleted from West Side soils. Elements removed in drainage water are now accumulating in evaporation ponds. To ensure desirable levels, water and soil sources of these elements must be monitored, and research into methods for limiting their accumulation and depletion should continue.
The price of water: Market-based strategies are needed to cope with scarcity
by David Sunding
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Water markets, economic efficiency and conjunctive use may be the keys to resolving California's water-management crisis.
Growing population and environmental concerns are increasing the demand for California's water resources. Historically, the state has dealt with shortages by expanding supply. In the coming years, new strategies will be required to allocate water among existing and emerging uses and to create additional supplies by nontraditional means. Three techniques will form the foundation of water management in the next era: water markets, water-use efficiency and active conjunctive use. Such methods establish prices for water that more accurately reflect costs, encouraging conservation and more efficient use patterns.
Recycled water is a promising new supply source
by Henry J. Vaux
Full text HTML  | PDF  

Editorial, News, Letters and Science Briefs

Critical choices ahead for natural resources
by Henry Vaux
Full text HTML  | PDF  
Q&A: Global warming: No easy answers
by F. Sherwood Rowland
Full text HTML  | PDF  

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