Drought Irony: More Almond Planting Harms the Bees They Need
California farmers have gone big into almonds in recent years, especially as the drought has worsened, because it is a very valuable crop that helps support rising water prices. Those almonds depend on bees for their pollinating process which, of course, is required to produce a crop.
But as more acreage is converted to almonds, less land is available for natural pollen sources— like wildflowers — that bees need when they aren’t feeding on almonds. Combine that with natural vegetation that has been killed off by the drought, and it’s been hard for beekeepers to find enough nectar — food — for their bees on the Central Valley floor or in the surrounding foothills. That means less revenue from honey production.
“Honey is a big part of our income,” Tulare County beekeeper Paul Godlin told Western Farm Press. “In irrigated citrus, we made a little, but very little. On wet years, we could run to the hills and make sage and buckwheat honey.”
Another factor has been declining cotton farming. Cotton has historically served as a nectar source for bees when almond trees aren’t pollinating. But cotton acreage has shrunk considerably as water scarcity has increased. It’s a very thirsty crop that many believe is not well suited to the arid Central Valley. Cotton acreage has declined from 1.6 million acres in the 1970s to less than 200,000 acres today.
Bee broker Joe Traynor in Kern County said some beekeepers have had to haul water to bees.
“It’s like a horse — it has to have water every day,” he said. “Bees consume a lot of water.”
New Israeli-California Partnership on Drought Solutions
A gaggle of business executives and politicians from Israel and Silicon Valley held a meeting this week to launch a new partnership that will explore technological solutions to the California drought.
The Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership, as it is being called, was officially launched Wednesday at an event in Tel Aviv and held at Google’s Israeli headquarters. More than 100 business executives, investors and politicians attended.
Google is not involved with the partnership in an official capacity beyond hosting the Wednesday night event. But its California-based [e]Team design and construction integrator Andreas Gyr sits on the group’s steering committee, alongside other Californian and Israeli entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.
“At a high level, we are looking to convene and engage on both public [and] private sector initiatives and potentially on the private innovation side of things, to take aggressive steps on the drought by leveraging Israeli successes on this issue,” Ashleigh Talberth, a recent immigrant from California to Israel, told the Jerusalem Post.
One of the Californians in attendance was state Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica. Bloom said he plans to make it his mission to see that the memorandum of understanding that created the partnership actually produces results.
“Many times we have agreements that look nice on paper, and then nothing happens,” he said. “That’s simply not acceptable in this instance.”
Bloom, chairman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation, also emphasized the fact that he is a Jew who has a longstanding relationship with Israel ought to help ensure results.
“Israel has been in a drought since the day it became a state, but has dealt responsibly with it,” Bloom said. “There’s an environment here and a product base and technical know-how that we can benefit from in California.”
San Francisco Begins Effort to Tap Groundwater
The city of San Francisco, for over a century, has an almost unlimited supply of some of the best water in California. It is pristine snowmelt from a protected watershed in Yosemite National Park, stored in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada, and then routed across the state in a dedicated pipeline all the way to San Francisco.
The drought and other potential disasters like earthquakes has forced the city to realize that even this pristine water supply may not be enough all the time. So it has decided to partner with several neighboring communities to tap into a groundwater aquifer lying under the city of Millbrae. The actual drilling began ceremoniously on Tuesday.
“Kind of like your stock portfolio, it’s good not to have all your eggs in one basket,” Gary Bartow, groundwater manager for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), told The Daily Journal newspaper.
Partners in the project include California Water Service Company and the cities of Daly City and San Bruno. They are jointly drilling new wells to tap into the South Westside Groundwater Basin nearly 500 feet underground. The $113 million project includes 15 well sites and several treatment facilities.
The partners have agreed not to draw from the aquifer during wet years, allowing it to replenish, then use it in years of drought. As a tradeoff, the SFPUC will supplement Cal Water, San Bruno and Daly City with free Hetch Hetchy water during wet years.
Top image: In this Wednesday, July 16, 2014 photo, Gene Brandi inspects one of his beehives in Los Banos, Calif. The state is traditionally one of the country’s biggest honey producers, with abundant crops and wildflowers that provide nectar that bees turn into honey. But a three-year drought has left hillsides barren and eliminated many, of the usual nectar sources available to bees. (Jose Sanchez, Associated Press)