The California Department of Water Resources is busy this month starting emergency repairs on the all-important California Aqueduct. The repairs are happening in Fresno and Kings counties where land subsidence, suspected to be caused by groundwater over pumping, has reduced the capacity of the big 444-mile canal.

Department spokesperson Sheree Edwards says the agency is adding liners in low spots so the water does not overtop the rim and is looking to make the repairs “before the busy summer season” when irrigation demand is the highest. New concrete panels will be poured by contractors focusing on two “subsidence bowls” seen in studies done earlier this year

A Feb. 8 JPL report includes sinking sections in Fresno and Kings counties along the canal - a seven-mile area in Fresno County that has settled up to 20 inches. The JPL report shows that localized subsidence directly affecting the aqueduct is ongoing, with maximum subsidence of the structure reaching 25 inches near Avenal  where the aqueduct can carry only a reduced flow of 6,650 cubic feet per second – 20 percent less than its design capacity of 8,350 cubic feet per second.

The Aqueduct supplies almost 25 million Californians and nearly 1 million acres of farmland. Thousands of private wells near state facilities could be contributing to subsidence, state officials suggest. Now it's costing millions to fix it - at least repair it, temporarily.

Milk production in Central Valley continues to drop in 2017

Milk producers in the Central Valley reduced their output during the first four months of 2017, as did the whole state according to CDFA statistics.

Statewide, milk production on a year-to-date basis (through April), was 13.1 billion pounds, down from 13.5 billion pounds for the same four-month period in 2016, about a 3 percent decline.

In Tulare and Kings counties, milk output is down as well with Kings County dairy operations this year through April producing 1.419 billion pounds, down from 1.470 billion pounds for the same period in 2016, about a 4 percent drop.

In Tulare County, the numbers show a decline from 3.779 billion pounds during the first four months of 2016 to 3.708 billion pounds during the same period in 2017, a 2 percent drop.

For the whole year of 2016, Tulare County milk production was 11.04 billion pounds according to CDFA. That is down from 2015 when dairymen in the county produced 11.2 billion pounds.

For all of 2014, Tulare reached 11.5 billion pounds - a record year. But it has been downhill since. So there is a trend line and it appears to be down. If Tulare continues this year’s trend at a 2 percent decline, we could end up at 11 billion pounds, still the biggest production county in the USA.

In Kings County, the top year was also 2014 at 4.42 billion pounds, compared to 4.27 billion pounds in 2016. If the 2017 trend continues in the county - we may be lower than that.

Kings County dairyman Joaquin Contente says he is “not surprised” by the numbers. ”I look around and can’t see 20 to 25 of my dairy neighbors that used to be here.” Contente says instead, many of these medium to small operations are replaced by nut farms.

“The difference is the low milk margins.” Meanwhile, "nut margins stay high, raising the price of land beyond what milk margins can sustain. As long as nut prices stay and milk is where it is - we will see the same trend.”

Contente reports “another one of my neighbors was sold off this week.” The Manuel Costa dairy was auctioned off by A&M livestock.

More new home subdivisions for Lemoore

Lennar Homes is expected to get approval for a tentative subdivision that would create 174 lots at the northeast corner of Hanford-Armona Road and Avenue 183⁄4 (Liberty Drive) in Lemoore. The city Planning Commission recently approved the plan that will require an annexation. City Community Development Director Judy Howell says the project is just one of seven new subdivision "in the works" or underway in response to the expansion at the nearby NAS Lemoore base. Today, there are both single-family and multi-family projects being launched by major home developers here including Wathen Castanos, D.R. Horton, Paul Daley, Woodside Homes and Victory Village, among others.

Hot temps could peak Pine Flat flows

Kings River watermaster Steve Haugen says he is watching the forecast for the next week with the likelihood of 100-degree plus temps over the next five to six days. The NWS says to expect highs of 103-107 over the weekend.

”We thought we had the peak flow on the Kings River June 4 at 20,100 cfs, but there still is 20-plus inches of water content on the snow pillows in Sierra and we may see another peak coming.”

Haugen says the roller-coaster effect of the temps make it harder to plan for flood releases now that the summer is in full swing.

The good news is that ag users are soaking up much of the flow at 8,200 cfs worth of demand - about double what it was a few months ago. That allows more release from Pine Flat that is used in a beneficial way without affecting downstream levees or losing water to the ocean.

Releases have now hit 10,800 cfs, he says. Meanwhile farmers report a resurgence of the groundwater levels in parts of the county with all the groundwater recharge that has been going on in the past several months.

John Lindt is an independent business reporter. He can be reached at sierra2thesea@gmail.com

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