County Corner: Farmers pursue flood control solutions after deluge

Amber McDowell

This January brought a major flooding event to the Cosumnes River watershed in Sacramento County. Flooding in the watershed is a well-known occurrence. But monitoring of this last undammed river in the Central Valley shows that the storm brought the second highest flows since the massive 1997 flooding, which caused multiple levee breaks that inundated southern Sacramento County farming communities.

This time, floodwaters flowed differently than in most past events. Rainfall in the Sacramento region caused extreme water flows in area rivers. The Cosumnes River overflowed its banks, broke through levees once again and caused widespread flooding of our local communities and agricultural lands.

Extreme wind toppled trees and power lines, and caused additional damage. Due to multiple levee failures along the Cosumnes River, farmland and perennial crops were buried in sand and debris, irrigation infrastructure was destroyed, livestock and aquaculture ponds were destroyed, and equipment and some structures were destroyed or greatly damaged.

Impacts to our local agricultural producers and businesses topped $38 million in damages and projected lost revenues, the Sacramento County Agricultural Commissioner’s office reported.

The largest damage was to winegrapes, with almost 4,000 acres impacted, and tomatoes, with over 1,600 acres affected. Other notable crops with losses include alfalfa, wheat and oats. Some agricultural lands in the lower river basin are still under some water as of this month.

Agriculture produces over $568 million worth of agricultural products in Sacramento County. The region’s top commodities include winegrapes, milk, pears, nursery stock, poultry, cherries, aquaculture, hay, field corn and cattle.

The Sacramento County Farm Bureau’s purpose is to protect and promote agricultural interests throughout our county and to find solutions to the challenges of the farm, the farm home and rural communities. We strive to improve the ability of farmers and ranchers engaged in production agriculture to provide a reliable supply of food and fiber through responsible stewardship of our water resources.

As part of that mission, water is always one of our top priorities with a wide range of interest areas, including varying groundwater conditions and basins, multiple rivers and the Sacramento River Delta. Urbanization continues to expand in our county, altering the watershed’s functionality and increasing the water needs for our area.

Now the recent storms are raising awareness of other water issues we are working on—flood control and addressing the evolution of the Cosumnes River watershed.

A group of local community farmers, reclamation districts, county representatives and water organizations are evaluating options to mitigate impacts through a variety of potential projects to protect residents and agricultural production from the excessive water that now comes in these large storms.

Data collected over decades have revealed some changing dynamics of the watershed. Changes include variable weather patterns, greater differences between high- and low-flow levels and neighboring seasonal creeks drastically increasing in flows due to decreases in open land that could absorb water before it entered the channel. Also, there has been reduced channel maintenance due to regulatory barriers.

Farmers and regional officials working on this issue are pursuing funding for a multi-benefit study for better management of the upper watershed to analyze hydrology for controlled release and groundwater recharge, sediment removal and habitat restoration. Their efforts seek to minimize the destruction and detriment downstream.

Sacramento County Farm Bureau directors and staff are aiding in this process of finding solutions to a changing watershed to protect both human safety and food security through safeguarding our farm production.

Sacramento County Farm Bureau takes an active role in representing and protecting the farming and ranching way of life. Our local growers work hard to supply consumers with high-quality products while battling obstacles such as increased production costs, water availability and urbanization.

Our family farmers and ranchers in Sacramento County are a vital economic component of our local communities. Our Farm Bureau is working on behalf of farm and ranch producers and is striving to protect our agricultural heritage for future generations.

Permission for use is granted. However, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation