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Road trip: The good, the burnt down, the dried-up

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  • Records show Shasta Lake lost more than 250,000 acre feet of storage within the past month
  • Lake level currently about 150 feet below capacity
  • Shasta Lake holds 4.55 million acre feet of water at capacity
     

 

A change of scenery is always nice, particularly during Central California’s dog days of summer.

I recently got to re-explore the land of exceptional alfalfa hay, horseradish and potatoes, otherwise known as northeastern California. This region can easily be forgotten for its agricultural production if all one focuses on is the high-value counties in the center of the state.

Try as I might to look beyond the large farms and vast acres of permanent crops in the Central Valley of California it’s easy to become journalistically short-sighted from my venue. It’s not a problem of the will, but one constrained by time.

Tulelake, Calif. isn’t much of a destination location unless viewing volcanic table lands and wildlife are on your to-do list; still the region holds its own among some in terms of agricultural production and the research that keeps it progressing.

Visiting the University of California’s Intermountain Research and Extension Center at Tulelake topped the agenda. It was the station’s annual field day, which doubled as a centennial birthday party for the UC Cooperative Extension.

The trip also gave me an opportunity to meet farmers and talk with researchers working on alfalfa production, hear about work on white rot disease in processing onions and see several potato varieties among the research plots at the station.

It also gave me the chance to meet a northern California farmer more widely known for his social media efforts than his work to produce top-quality alfalfa from his Scott Valley location.

The trip wasn’t without its sad scenes that included the ravages of forest fire.

Driving north I saw what is left of Shasta Lake, a 4.55 million acre-foot reservoir that currently holds roughly 1.4 million acre feet behind the dam. Records show it’s falling about 250,000 acre feet per month.

News that California lawmakers and the governor reached an agreement to put up a $7.5 billion water bond for voters to decide upon this November, of which $2.7 billion will be earmarked for storage, won’t fill Shasta Lake this year. Still it gives a glimmer of hope to a state that has not improved its water infrastructure since the 1960s.

The drought is impacting Klamath Basin farmers, who heard in a meeting as I was returning to the Central Valley that some of them would have no post-season water due to federal restrictions on the Klamath River.

Later in the week a Sacramento Valley walnut grower told me next year will be even worse if we get no rain this winter. Still, this farmer optimistically shared of plans to expand the walnut processing operation he manages.

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