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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2
California: Water, Cannabis
California, which had one of its wettest years ever in 2016-17, declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and ended it in April 2017. Over 30 inches of rain fell in parts of the Central Valley that normally receive less than 20 inches, and some Sierra mountain areas received over 60 feet of snow.
Instead of worrying about whether there would be enough water for summer irrigation, many water managers worried about having enough room in dams and reservoirs to prevent flooding. The water content of the Sierra snowpack, which normally peaks in April, was over 160 percent of average in April 2017, compared to five percent of average in April 2015. In 1983, the April Sierra snowpack had a water content that was over 200 percent of average.
California normally uses about 33 million acre feet of water, including 26 million acre feet for farming and nine million acre feet for consumers and industry. Among urban residents, half of water is used for lawns and landscaping.
In normal rain years, about 38 percent of the water used for agricultural irrigation is groundwater. During drought years, less surface water is conveyed via dams and canals, and groundwater is 60 percent of agricultural irrigation water. Land often subsides as water is pumped from underground, falling 50 feet or more in many areas of the San Joaquin Valley during the 2012-16 drought.
California's largest dams are Lake Shasta, operated by the federal government, and Lake Oroville, operated by the state government. With water rushing in, Lake Oroville's spillway was opened February 7, 2017, and a gash appeared that forced a brief evacuation of almost 200,000 residents living below the 770-foot high dam.
California has 1,400 dams and 13,000 miles of levees to keep water in rivers and to prevent the flooding of islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta. By one estimate, up to $50 billion is needed to repair federal and state dams and levies to ensure that they can withstand heavier winter rains.
The dam and levee system faces another threat: climate change. If global warming means that more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow during the winter months, dams that were built primarily to collect snow melt for summer irrigation could be forced to release rain water in winter to prevent floods.
In response to more water flowing into the ocean in 2016-17, California plans three new storage projects: Sites Reservoir to store 1.8 million acre feet, Temperance Flat to store 1.3 million acre feet, and raising the 602-foot high Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet to increase its capacity by 634,000 acre feet.
Most new water storage facilities are north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, raising the challenge of moving more water through or around the Delta while protecting fish. The state's plans to build $15.5 billion twin, 30-mile-long tunnels beneath the delta are moving very slowly.
The US Bureau of Reclamation announced in March 2017 that Sacramento Valley and Friant customers can expect 100 percent of their water allocation in 2017, but Central Valley Project customers could expect at least 65 percent and perhaps 80 percent. Westlands Water District, the largest US agricultural water district, called for 100 percent of CVP water deliveries.
The 350-square mile Salton Sea is California's largest lake. Created in the early 1900s when canals bringing water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley overflowed for two years, the Salton Sea reached its heyday in the 1950s, when it was the playground of the Hollywood elite. Since then, evaporation has increased salt levels and shrunk the Salton Sea, killing fish and allowing fine dust to circulate and threatening 400 species of migrating birds. A $9.6 billion revitalization plan has not been implemented.
Migration. A quarter of California's 39 million residents were born in other countries, including 90 percent of the state's 850,000 farm workers. However, most full-time hardware and software engineers (60 percent) and medical scientists, pharmacists, and dentists (50 percent) were born abroad, as were over 40 percent of RNs and accountants. By contrast, fewer than 15 percent of K-12 teachers and police and fire fighters were born abroad.
California took the lead to oppose efforts of the Trump Administration to build a wall on the Mexico-US border and to deport unauthorized foreigners in the US. SB 54, approved by the Senate on a 27-12 vote in April 2017, would make California a sanctuary state by, for instance, prohibiting state and local law enforcement from engaging in or cooperating with DHS agents in immigration enforcement.
A 2013 state law bars state police from holding someone for immigration agents unless the suspect has been charged or convicted of a serious crime such as drug trafficking, child abuse or gang activity.
Several cities said they would not invest in firms that help to build the wall, and many migrant advocates urged unauthorized foreigners to make plans for their US-born children in the event they are detained by DHS. Most of California's largest counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Alameda and Sacramento, are sanctuaries for unauthorized foreigners. These seven counties include over 60 percent of the state's residents.
California had a net loss of 800,000 people to other states between 2000 and 2015. Many of the 2.5 million people who left California had low incomes, while most of the 1.7 million people who moved to California had higher than average incomes. California, Hawaii and New York have the highest cost of living; the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,700 in San Francisco in Spring 2017, and $2,300 in Los Angeles.
The leading destination for emigrants from California is Texas, followed by Arizona, Nevada and Oregon.
California had 2.3 million or 20 percent of the 11.1 million unauthorized foreigners in the US in 2014, followed by 1.7 million or 15 percent in Texas. About 52 percent of all unauthorized foreigners in the US were born in Mexico. In California and Texas, 71 percent were born in Mexico.
Almost 55 percent of California farm workers are unauthorized. Stockton-based FLC Jesse Sandoval says that fewer newcomers are arriving from Mexico to seek farm jobs. Sandoval, who said that most of his workers present green cards and driver's licenses that appear to be genuine, says that his peak 500 workers are "terrified" of state and local police because of President Trump's January 2017 executive orders. With fewer newcomers, some workers have asked for wage increases.
San Jose, the 10th largest US city, is considered a model for integrating immigrants; half of the venture-funded start-ups in San Jose include foreign-born entrepreneurs. Unlike most cities, many San Jose residents live in the city but work in nearby cities, reducing San Jose's business tax revenues.
California had 19.4 million registered voters in February 2017, including 45 percent Democrats and 26 percent Republicans. Another 25 percent had no party preference, and a few supported minor parties.
California's GDP was $2.6 trillion in 2016; if it were a country, California would rank sixth, just behind the UK with $2.7 trillion and ahead of France at $2.5 trillion. US GDP was $18.6 trillion in 2016: followed by China, $11.4 trillion; Japan, $4.7 trillion; and Germany, $3.5 trillion.
Cannabis. California voters approved Prop 64 in November 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana with Prop 215 in 1996, which gave people suffering from cancer and other diseases the "legal right to obtain or grow, and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor."
Medical marijuana in California is believed to be a $2.5 billion-a-year commodity at the farm level, similar to the value of strawberries. Retail medical marijuana sales are estimated at $7 billion, suggesting that growers get a third of the average retail price, similar to the grower share of retail berry prices.
The sale and taxation of recreational marijuana will be legal after January 1, 2018, prompting efforts to anticipate and profit from an expanding industry. The cannabis industry is centered in Humboldt county in northern California, but most consumers are further south.
Federal drug laws classify marijuana with heroin, and call for a minimum five-year prison sentence for growers with more than 100 plants. Nonetheless, the California Growers Association says that there are ever more growers as counties issue grow permits. The CGA complains that many counties want to tax cannabis growers at such high rates that many may elect to remain underground.
Seven other states including Colorado, where legal cannabis sales were over $1 billion in 2016, have legalized recreational marijuana use, but federal law prohibits moving marijuana across state lines. If this federal law changes, California could become a major marijuana exporter to other states.
The United Food and Commercial Workers represents 1.3 million workers, including "tens of thousands" of cannabis workers. The UFCW wants the federal government to allow cannabis firms to use the banking system, which would reduce the use of cash and security issues for employers and workers.
The UFCW is one of the largest US unions representing mostly private-sector workers. Others include the Teamsters with 1.3 million members in 2016, the Steelworkers with 570,000, and the UAW with 415,000.
Napa. Since 2002, Napa county has operated centers with beds for solo male farm workers; three centers currently offer 180 beds at a cost of $13 a day for room and board. Worker payments cover only half the cost of operating the centers, and a $10-per-acre assessment on vineyards that do not provide housing for farm workers covers much of the deficit. Napa growers want to raise the assessment from $10 to $15 an acre, and obtain a $250,000 grant from the state.
The city of Napa with 80,000 residents has a downtown that is undergoing major renovations, including the construction of a six-story hotel that will be the highest building in the county. The Culinary Institute of America is opening at Copia, and the internet TV channel Feast It Forward plans a studio in Napa. Many service workers cannot afford to live in Napa county, so more development in Napa is likely to contribute to clogged access roads.
The eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley are known for producing fruit and other farm commodities and having lower-than-average wages. One reason for low wages is low levels of education. Half of the adults in Santa Clara county have a college degree or more, and 20 percent have master's degrees or more. In Fresno county, less than 20 percent of adults have college degrees.
Some 310,000 people, most in the San Joaquin Valley, live in unincorporated places such as Matheny Tract in Tulare county and Lanare in Fresno that lack basic public services. Providing public services to communities with fewer than 500 houses can be expensive, which is why some planners want to move people to larger places.
Tulare county, one of the state's poorest, has more cows than people (440,000). Its poverty rate of 28 percent is twice that of the state, and many households pay $100 a month for bottled water because of suspicions about the safety of ground water.
AB 60 allowed unauthorized foreigners to get driver's licenses, and some 850,000 people did in 2015 and 2016. DMV does not release AB 60 driver's licenses by county, but a study that estimated how many were issued in each county concluded that hit-and-run accidents declined in counties where more AB 60 licenses were issued. California and 11 other states issue driver's licenses to unauthorized foreigners.
California has some of the highest housing prices in the US. The median home price in Los Angeles county is about $600,000, and in San Francisco $1.3 million.
California pensions for police officers and fire fighters may be unsustainable. Over half of the 150 full-time workers in the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District had total compensation of over $300,000 in 2016. For every dollar in wages in this fire district, another dollar is paid for pension benefits so that fire fighters can retire in their 50s and receive pensions and health care for the rest of their lives.
California's Air Resources Board in March 2017 voted to toughen fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks, setting up a conflict with President Trump's promise to relax them in order to create auto jobs. An exception in the Clean Air Act allows California to have tougher standards than other states, and 12 other states follow California, so that 130 million people live in places where CARB standards that require new cars to get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 to prevail. California enacted a law to reduce its emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.