Ag Alert, the weekly newspaper for California Agriculture, yesterday touched on the mounting concern over the lack of water for winter-flooded rice in the Sacramento Valley, which may be down from the normal range of 300,000 acres to only 50k in 2015. The Central Valley is the most important waterfowl wintering area along the Pacific Flyway, biologists said, and having wetlands available is essential to provide resting area, food and prevent disease triggered by habitat overcrowding. Winter-flooded rice and corn fields can provide more than 50 percent of the food migrating waterfowl need, experts said.
Four years into the drought, Mark Biddlecomb, Ducks Unlimited Western regional director, said conditions for migrating waterfowl are becoming “more worrisome.”
“We’re worried about the refuges and whether they’ll be able to hang onto their 75 percent allocation of fall water,” Biddlecomb said. “We haven’t been able to irrigate in the summer and the public wetlands being flooded up aren’t in the best shape anyway.”
The bigger worry is whether water will be available for private rice ground, he said, noting that those fields provide “an important food source for the birds.”
Hanging over everything, Biddlecomb said, is the long-term outlook.
“If farmers give up creating managed wetlands during the winter to get rid of rice straw and find other alternatives and cultural practices, it will be very difficult for the birds,” he said. “Right now, everything is up in the air. We need to find funds to help farmers maintain the practice of winter-flooding fields.”
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