Desert farmers defend maligned alfalfa production

Source By Caleb Hampton

March 22, 2023

Bales of alfalfa hay sit under the sun by an Imperial Valley roadside near Calipatria. The high-protein forage crop covers roughly a third of the valley’s farmland and is harvested in the region year-round.

The Imperial Valley, a vast grid of greens, browns and yellows, produces dozens of crops. But two visual features define the valley: open channels carrying water from the Colorado River and blocks of hay that tower above the irrigation channels.

Forage crops such as alfalfa, sudangrass and bermudagrass cover more than half the Imperial Valley’s farmland. “From the growers’ perspective, alfalfa is their best crop,” said Ali Montazar, University of California Cooperative Extension irrigation and water management advisor for Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties.

But as the Colorado River dwindles, environmentalists and competing water users scorn farmers for growing the thirsty crop in a drought-stricken region. “It’s simple math,” High Country News reported last year. “Growing less hay is the only way to keep the river’s water system from collapsing.”

Much of the criticism of California’s alfalfa production focuses on the crop’s export to countries such as China, Japan and Saudi Arabia. In recent years, California has exported around 30% of its hay, with several estimates showing a higher proportion from the Imperial Valley is sold abroad. Some critics liken it to shipping “virtual water” out of a drought zone and overseas.

It is true that alfalfa needs lots of water—more than almost any crop in California. However, growers say criticism of its cultivation in the desert region overlooks important context around the nuances of crop planning, the globalized food system and alfalfa’s role in nutrition and food security. The crop is also a key contributor to the Imperial Valley’s economy.

The region’s geography is ideal for alfalfa production. Because the Imperial Valley gets year-round sun, farmers can harvest alfalfa up to 10 times per year, yielding twice as much hay as many other growing regions. “We probably have the highest yield and highest quality alfalfa in the world,” said Larry Cox, who farms in the Imperial Valley.


California forking out $34 million to clean up New and Tijuana rivers. SAM RIBAKOFF / February 2, 2023

Border watersheds have been plagued for years by trash, sewage, agricultural and industrial runoff and other pollutants.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — The State Water Resources Control Board will spend $34 million for six projects to improve the water quality of the New River and the Tijuana River along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The New River starts south of the city of Mexicali, and runs through Calexico on the U.S. side of the border and through Imperial County to the Salton Sea. The Tijuana River runs from Baja California into San Diego.

Both rivers are heavily polluted by sewage, trash, industrial and agricultural waste, and other sediment and pollutants.

“The water quality in our border watersheds have been degraded by sewage, trash and other pollutants for decades, posing a constant threat to the health of people, wildlife, and our economies,” Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state water board, said in a statement Thursday. “This funding comes at a critical time, as these challenges are exacerbated by extreme weather patterns in our changed climate. These projects will help improve water quality for our border communities while we continue our collaboration at the local, state and federal levels, and with our Mexican partners, to protect our water resources.”

Those projects include $18 million for the city of Calexico and the California Department of Water Resources to install a trash screen, a system to pump water back into the river after it’s been treated at the Calexico Wastewater Treatment Plant, and other infrastructure to prevent against erosion on the New River.

Another project will be headed by San Diego County, which will use more than $4 million to build a sediment and trash control basin and do dredging to remove sediment, trash and debris at the Tijuana River Pilot Channel and Smuggler’s Gulch, and area the announcement by the board describes as a place where pollutants on the Tijuana River accumulate, and through a series of gates, is used to divert trash from the river from reaching the Pacific Ocean.

San Diego County will receive $2 million to remediate an illegal dumping ground that has altered the course of the Tijuana River and to restore the floodplain and habitat around the property.

The Rural Community Assistance Corporation will receive $4.7 million to build a floating trash boom system that can be used during the stormy season in the concrete-lined portion of the Tijuana River Channel. FULL ARTICLE

The Colorado River is overused and shrinking. Inside the crisis transforming the Southwest



The Colorado River begins as melting snow, trickling from forested peaks and coursing in streams that gather in the meadows and valleys of the Rocky Mountains.

Like arteries, its major tributaries take shape across Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, coming together in a great river like no other — a river that travels more than 1,400 miles and has defined the rise of the American Southwest over the last century.

Water diverted from the river has enabled agriculture to spread across 5 million acres of farmland and has fed the growth of cities from Denver to Los Angeles, supplying about 40 million people. Harnessing the river’s bounty has provided the foundation for life and the economy across seven states and northern Mexico.

White surfaces along the banks show previous water levels in Lake Powell on May 16. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times) 

But the region has for years depended too heavily on the river, taking more than its flows can support. And in recent years, the river’s water-generating heart in the Rocky Mountains has begun to fail.

The Colorado River can no longer withstand the unbridled thirst of the arid West.

A century ago, the signing of the Colorado River Compact divided the water among the states. The agreement established a system that overpromised what the river could provide. That system, after years of warnings from scientists and insufficient efforts to adapt, is now colliding with the reality of a river that is overused and shrinking.

In the last 23 years, as rising temperatures fueled by the burning of fossil fuels have intensified the worst drought in centuries, the flow of the Colorado has declined about 20%.

Reservoirs have dropped to record-low levels, and the shortage continues to worsen. Scarcity is pushing the region toward a water reckoning.


Calexico celebrates $28M in New River funding

By Kassandra MendozaJul 11, 2022

The desert Review

CALEXICO —  After a decade of immense effort, the New River Project received $28 million in funding to begin the first phase of restoration said to bring public health safety and environmental justice to Calexico, Mexicali, and Baja California, at a press conference at the Women’s Improvement Club in Calexico July 7.  

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Senator Ben Hueso, along with California Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld and his team, were welcomed to The City of Calexico by the Mayor of Calexico, Javier Moreno. 

“We are incredibly proud, the Governor of California talks about this project with a huge amount of interest and affection because we are actually doing it, we are not talking about doing it, we aren’t thinking about doing it, we are putting shovel to the ground, putting dollars in the bank and we are getting this done,” stated California Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld.

It was an evening of recognition to all the individuals who have collaborated in bringing justice to an environmental issue that is known to be one the most polluted rivers in the United States. 

 “It is so long overdue that Calexico receive the necessary resources to get this project on the way, we’ve been around for over 35 years and it is only around this time that our senators and assembly members have had a front row seat to be able to advocate for ourselves and I would want to thank them for their support,” stated Executive Director of Comite Civico del Valle Luis Olmedo.

Government Representatives from Baja California were present to show their appreciation in receiving these funds and commitment to the projects laying ahead. 

“We can’t solve this without Mexicali being a part of this project, this is a small town of 40,000 people. We have a bigger city of a million plus being affected by the river. If you drive through Mexicali you smell the new river, it’s a pretty big issue for them day in and day out. These borders are arbitrary but the community is one,” expressed Blumenfeld.

Mónica Juliana Vega Aguirre Secretary of Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable in Baja California spoke on the importance of collaborating with California Governor Newsom to address this environmental issue. 

“The work to be done needs to come from both sides of the border. The citizens from both sides of the border are our family, friends and neighbors and it’s important for all of us to be doing this public service to protect the lives of this community,” emphasized Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. 

Every speaker at the conference highlighted gratitude to all individuals who made a collaborative effort to obtain these funds for the beginning phases of the New River and Tijuana River improvement project. 

 “The New River Project is divided in 3 phases. Phase number 1 involves a trash rack clean up that will prevent the water contamination, the second portion of the project is the encasement of the water, the third phase is where the water meets with the waste water treatment plant. what that does is it dilutes the contamination of the water from that point the water is going to be pumped out to continue with the stream of water all the way to the Salton Sea area,” explained Calexico City Manager, Esperanza Colio. 

A check for $28 million from Senator Ben Hueso and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia was presented to The City of Calexico to begin the first phase of the project. 

“This is a very important topic to the State of California hopefully with our success we can get some response from the Federal Government as well. We need the Federal Government to step up to the plate with a lot of the border issues and water issues here in Imperial County,” stated Senator Ben Hueso. 

Army Corps of Engineers to help with New River

Holtville Tribune

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to bring in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create a preliminary engineering report to develop a project to improve water quality at the New River, which will allow the county to access additional funding for the improvements.  For decades, sewage, waste, industrial chemicals and other toxic pollutants coming out of Mexicali have contaminated the New River and the surrounding watershed, causing the New River to be considered one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. … ”  Continue reading at the Holtville Tribune here: Army Corps of Engineers to help with New River

$100M New River funding legislation to address water quality problems at California-Mexico border rivers

Source – KYMA

Assemblymember Garcia is calling on community members to help advocate in support of the New River funding legislation – News 11’s Vanessa Gongora reports

IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) – The California State Assembly recently approved Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s California-Mexico Border River Restoration, AB 2248.

According to Garcia, the legislation would allocate $100 million to address water quality problems at California-Mexico border rivers, with $50 million each for the New River, in Calexico and the Tijuana River, in San Diego.

“Our $100 million funding request for New River and Tijuana River improvement projects are a matter of public health and environmental justice urgency for our shared border communities. For too long, residents living alongside our borders have faced disproportionate consequences of cross-border pollution, and we have been fighting for the resources needed to rectify these disparities,” stated Assemblymember Garcia.

He says the New River, which runs from Mexicali, Baja California, and Calexico, California into the Salton Sea, is one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. It also remains one of the largest public health hazards in Imperial County.

The legislative process is halfway there. The bill will next go before Senate committees for approval.

The bill states it would require expenditures of the funding to be consistent with the work of the California Environmental Protection Agency Border Affairs Program to build collaboration with the federal government, the Republic of Mexico, the State of Baja California, and the Cities of Tijuana and Mexicali.

The bill would also require the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Environmental Protection Agency to consult and collaborate with the Legislature on cross-border collaboration and the expenditure of the funding.

Assemblymember Garcia is also leading a corresponding $100 million budget request for border rivers with the same equal split for improvement projects at the Tijuana River and New River.