KUSP Reports: Environment

At Farming Workshop: Drought and Salty Wells

Mark Silberstein-500

By Wes Sims | KUSP News

During droughts cities tell residents to stop watering outside. Farms don’t have that option. This drought highlights the challenge growers face maintaining agriculture while preserving water supplies. It’s become part of the curriculum for a program that educates community leaders about local agricultural issues.


Drying Landscape
Marine Biologist Mark Silberstein is giving a walking tour of the Elkhorn Slough, near Moss Landing.

“From this vantage point you really get the broad sweep of Elkhorn Slough. You sort of get the big picture,” Silberstein says as the tour reaches a point offering a view of much of the preserve.

Silberstein is executive director of the non-profit Elkhorn Slough Foundation, and one of a dozen instructors at Focus Agriculture, an annual nine-week lecture series designed to give members of the community, an on-site understanding of farming in the Pajaro Valley.

“This is called the Springfield Terrace, where before the Second World War, there was artesian water,” he says. “There was so much water pressure that fresh water bubbled out of the ground.”

Contaminated Wells, Fallowed Land
But not anymore, because of salt-water intrusion, and more recently, a critical lack of rainfall. Jess Brown, the executive director of Agri-Culture, the Watsonville-based non-profit that administers Focus Ag, says the drought raised the priority water use discussions.

Lou Calcagno at his dairy farm. Photo: Monterey County Weekly
Lou Calcagno at his dairy farm. Photo: Monterey County Weekly

“We’re very lucky to have Lou Calcagno, who has been a supervisor for many years but he’s a dairy farmer,” Brown says. “And what’s interesting is that he talks about how Elkhorn Slough, where his dairy is, was a fresh water body, and now it isn’t. It’s salt water.”

Calcagno offered this example: “Just recently, the Fish and Game bought a property next to me. They had a well, it was 800 feet, it went salty. The 850 acres that was farmed, it’s no longer farmed. It’s growing weeds.”

Reclaimed Water or Taking Land Out of Production
Farming in California coastal areas has suffered from salt water intrusion for a long time, an issue Lou Calcagno deals with as a dairy farmer and as a Monterey County Supervisor. Calcagno supports the increased use of recycled water as one way to replenish the groundwater supply.

“When you leave Moss Landing and you drive to Salinas or you cross the river to Monterey, all that ground is being irrigated with reclaimed water, which we call purple line, sewer water from the City of Monterey, former Fort Ord, Marina, Seaside, Salinas, Moss Landing, and Castroville. We take all that water and reclaim it.”

Though the Elkhorn Slough Foundation maintains about ten percent of its surrounding lands in some kind of farming or ranching, Mark Silberstein says another way existing groundwater supplies can be preserved, is by not farming areas that are unproductive.

“We’ve taken 600 plus acres of steep – what we felt were overly steep or eroding hillsides – out of production. That equates to approaching 2,000 acre feet of water a year that was being pumped out of the ground year after year that’s now banked in the ground.”

The Task at Hand
Two thousand acre feet would be about four percent of the amount that farms take out of Pajaro Valley wells each year. Focus Ag class member and Watsonville City Council woman Trina Coffman-Gomez says, clearly, there’s work to be done.

“All of us need to take our part and be responsible for conserving what we can, because it, it’s basically the monetary value of our area. It’s no longer money. It’s water. Water is that gold that’s in our valley here, and we need to make sure we do the best with the resources that we have here and work together with it.”

2013 was one of the driest years on record, with water use in the Pajaro Valley, the second highest in the last decade. And that was before drought conditions got as bad as they are now.

Why Monterey Isn’t Rationing Water and Santa Cruz Is

SC Water Dept

Before rationing took effect, Santa Cruz checked water use with an aggressive public information campaign. Photo: Wes Sims.

By Wes Sims | KUSP News

Two of the larger districts in the Monterey Bay area rely on rivers for their water. Under rationing, in Santa Cruz, if your family uses fifteen hundred gallons over the limit, Water Director Rosemary Menard says “You’d be looking at about 75 dollars a month in fines.”

Meanwhile, on the Monterey Peninsula, there are no fines. Here’s why there’s rationing in one place and not another.

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Fukushima Radiation Helps Scientists Model Future Disasters

Collecting sea water samples in Santa Cruz.. Photo: Courtesy of http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/

Collecting sea water samples in Santa Cruz.. Photo: Courtesy of http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/

By Melissae Fellet | KUSP News

The ocean is calm on the Sunday in April when surfers and activists gather on Pleasure Point to test the water for radiation.One places a plastic case and a 5-gallon jar on the end of his surfboard, paddles out beyond those waiting to catch a wave, and fills the jar with water.

“We’d like to do three to four samples a year,” says Robin Brune, a resident of Felton. “This is just the first one.”

Brune says her heart grew heavy when she learned about the radiation coming from Japan. “Santa Cruz is so much about surfing and [I wondered] what would it be like, what would our lifestyle, what would our city be like if it was not safe to surf,” she says.

Brune started a MeetUp group called Save Our Surfers Fukushima Response Santa Cruz so people could gather to share information about radiation. The group identified a scientist analyzing samples of seawater for radiation from Fukushima, and Brune arranged to send him some water collected in Santa Cruz.

“There are a lot of people who have more questions than answers, me being one of them,” she says. “But I felt like it was really important to meet each other, and work together and build community around this issue.”

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Fukushima in Fish

"Fish from Ueno market" (in Japan) Photo: Gideon/malias-flickr

“Fish from Ueno market” (in Japan) Photo: Gideon/malias-flickr

By Melissae Fellet | KUSP News

Wind Euler is with the group MamaBears Against Nukes in Arizona. In April, she spoke to a community group in Santa Cruz County about exposure to low levels of radiation. Eating contaminated fish, Euler says, carries more risk than swimming in lightly contaminated water.

“Maybe eating one fish, might not hurt,” she says. “But if you keep on eating fish and keep on eating fish, you get a chronic internal exposure. And that’s where the danger lies.”

Concerns over contaminated seafood arose about five months after the Fukushima disaster, when bluefin tuna caught off the coast of San Diego contained radioactive cesium released during the accident. Ken Buesseler studies marine radiochemistry at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. He explains how the US Food and Drug Administration sets safety standards for an acceptable amount of radiation in fish destined for market.

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Testing Our Radioactive Coast

Community activists gather in Live Oak to take the first of what they hope will be several periodic samples of ocean water to monitor radiation from Fukushima. Photo: Melissae Fellet

Community activists gather in Live Oak to take the first of what they hope will be several periodic samples of ocean water to monitor radiation from Fukushima. Photos: Melissae Fellet

By Melissae Fellet | KUSP News

Scientists predict that radioactivity from the Fukushima nuclear disaster three years ago could reach the west coast this year. There’s no government monitoring of radioactivity in the ocean, so researchers are teaming up with citizens and groups along the West coast to do sampling.

As the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant developed, radioactive water streamed into the Pacific Ocean, where it mixed with the Kuroshio Current, a strong current moving from Japan, into the ocean just south of the major releases.

Ken Buesseler studies marine radioactivity at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. He’s running a program to measure the amount of radiation from Fukushima that reaches the West Coast. That information helps scientists track how ocean currents transport and dilute the radioactive particles.

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How the Drought Looks from the Fields of Salinas Valley


In the Central Valley farmers face significantly reduced supply of water. That’s not the case in the SalinasValley, where farmers continue to draw from wells. Wes Sims reports fields remain in production, though growers are taking steps to conserve.

Cliff Stout, general manager of Classic Salads, demonstrates the harvesting of kale that his company grows in the Salinas Valley. The fresh stalk cracks and snaps in his grip.

“We take our hands around the top few leaves, leaving those behind, and we basically strip the plant of all its leaves, removing kind of the yellow ones or the not so good-looking ones and under…”

Now in its 14th year of operation, Classic Salads, farms 850 acres of specialty salad and vegetable items. All while keeping an eye on drought conditions throughout California.

“So we’re very thankful for these wells and not depending necessarily on surface water to take care of our crops.”

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Sediment Necessitates & Complicates San Clemente Dam Removal


There are two big dams on the Carmel River. One of them, the San Clemente, is about to be demolished to restore fish habitat. But with a reservoir full of sediment behind it, that’s a delicate process. KUSP’s Wes Sims reports.

San Clemente Dam. Photoby Wes Sims.

San Clemente Dam. Photoby Wes Sims.

With the threat of winter storms mostly faded, California American Water is continuing its $83 million project to remove the San Clemente Dam and restore the river to its original state. The work, located 18-miles up the Carmel River from the Pacific Ocean, involves capturing 2.5 million yards of mud and rerouting the river.

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When Your Garden Needs Help, Give it Some Tea


There’s a store in Santa Cruz that sells everything you might want to make your own compost or even convert your compost into soil additive to inoculate your plants with beneficial microorganisms. KUSP’s J.D. Hillard has this report

55 gallon barrels of compost tea - bubble behind 'Soil Solutions', James Neve.

55 gallon barrels of compost tea bubble behind ‘Soil Solutions’, James Neve.

In the parking lot of Soil Solutions, there are the bags of prepared compost and soil you might find at any garden store. But the store in Santa Cruz’s Harvey West neighborhood isn’t a typical garden store. Owner James Neve advocates a whole new approach to gardening.

Helping You Raise Good Microbes

“What we offer is a non synthetic, a non-chemical way of feeding your soil,” Neve says.

When he says “feeding your soil,” he means he doesn’t sell chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Instead everything he sells is intended to cultivate the biology of your soil so it’s more nutritious for your plants.

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Showing Otters Love Through Your Taxes

Photo: Michael L. Baird/Flickr

Photo: Michael L. Baird/Flickr

By Melissae Fellet | KUSP News

More than two million dollars have been contributed to the California Sea Otter Fund through donations on the state income tax form. The fund has become an important source of support for sea otter research and conservation programs in the state. But the program will only continue if donations reach a mandated minimum target this year, which is the largest in its seven-year history.

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Preparing for Drought at Loch Lomond Reservoir

1-above-from ridge top

Loch Lomond from above.


Low water levels reveal more than 20 vertical feet of dry lake bed.


Chris Berry leads us to the water markers.


In a good water year, all but the closest staff plate would be under water.

1-Driving Highland Rd

Preparing for a dry year means clearing shaded fire breaks on Highland Road.


Monterey office for the National Weather Service.

1-Warren Blier

Warren Blier at the NOAA weather maps.

Story and photos by Wes Sims | KUSP News

The serenity of Loch Lomond, near Lompico, belies the critical nature of drought conditions affecting the backup water supply for the City of Santa Cruz.  This man-made reservoir was created a half century ago with the construction of a dam across Newell Creek.

Yes, the Levels are Low
On our recent trip to the Loch Lomond, we were shown the water level indicators: a series of staff-plates with five hard-wood measuring sticks descending the shore line.  All five are bone-dry, indicating current surface water elevation at just over 550 feet, which is very low according to Chris Berry who is the Santa Cruz Watershed Compliance Manager.

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