Floods disrupt Northern California farms


Issue Date: March 6, 2019
By Kevin Hecteman
Chris Scheuring and his dog, Bodie, look over the spot where a power pole fell over along the banks of Cache Creek next to the family’s property in northwestern Yolo County. Scheuring’s family farms walnuts on the land. The high- and fast-running creek is a result of last week’s atmospheric river, which caused flooding along the North Coast and in Sonoma County.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Swollen rivers and creeks fed by atmospheric-river storms caused flooding with both short-term and long-term impacts for California farmers.

Mary Ann Renner, a dairy farmer in the Humboldt County town of Ferndale, said the flood from the Eel River was not the worst she's seen—but was close.

"It was over 25 feet," Renner said. "Flood level's 20."

"Just about every dairy in the valley was affected," she added. "We probably had over half our ranch underwater. Others were much worse."

The region suffered a flood-related death, when a farm employee at another Ferndale dairy was swept away by floodwater while trying to walk from a barn to his home.

Renner said one of her neighbors couldn't milk cows because of water in the milk barn, and at other places the cows were herded into the barns because the buildings were the only dry spot available.

"Feed's going to be really rough this spring, because when you got a lot of sediment out there, everything's going to have to be cleaned up," Renner said. "You certainly can't put any cows on the field right now."

Nearly every dairy in her valley is organic, she said, and moving cows into summertime pastures will be critical.

"This is going to put us back a couple months," as fields need work before they're suitable for cows, Renner said. "We're going to have to buy more hay. Our silage is pretty much done."

Along Cache Creek in Rumsey, Chris Scheuring watched the swollen waterway bordering his family's Yolo County walnut farm.

"We've got a creek bank erosion problem up there," said Scheuring, who also works as an environmental attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "The creek has cut into our property."

The storm knocked over a power pole and forced removal of an irrigation pump that won't be reinstalled until May, he added.

Cache Creek peaked at 15.16 feet Feb. 27, according to the National Weather Service, which monitors the creek at Rumsey Bridge just upstream from the Scheuring property. Flood stage is 14 feet. As of Monday, the creek had receded to 6.2 feet.

"I think that the heaviest part of the precipitation—meaning the yellow returns on the radar—were basically parked right over the top of Clear Lake for two days straight," Scheuring said.

That squares with the observations of Sacramento-based National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Mathews.

"The main thing was, the plume of moisture/atmospheric river was over us for maybe a couple of days," Mathews said.

The Shasta drainage received more than a foot of rain from last week's storms, Mathews said, as did the Feather River basin northeast of Chico, the Yuba River area and the North Coast.

"You had a series of storms affect our area during that time," he said.

The atmospheric river left behind a snowpack holding a snow water equivalent of 39 inches, or 154 percent of average for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

"After this week, if it didn't rain another drop for the rest of the water year, we'd end up with about an average year," Mathews said.

Forecasters predicted another round of storms for the Golden State this week. The National Weather Service office in Oxnard forecast 2 to 3 inches of rain this week in parts of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Back in Ferndale, Renner and others have a lot of work ahead.

"I guess the long-term cost of this is what you have to keep in mind," she said. "It's not just a one-day event. This is going to affect us for weeks on."

Wiring, fences and water—all systems need attention, she added.

"Life is not normal yet," Renner said.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be reached at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.