Tag Archives: agriculture

Davis, like many communities, needs a long-term vision

The Davis Vanguard published an article about the need to set out a vision for where the City of Davis wants to go if we want to have a coherent set of residential and commercial development decisions:

How do we continue to provide high quality of life for the residents of Davis, as the city on the one hand faces fiscal shortfalls and on the other hand continues to price the middle class and middle tier out of this community? A big problem that we have not addressed is the lack of any long term community vision. 

The article set out a series of questions that focused on assumptions and solutions. But we should not start the conversation with choosing a growth rate and then picking a set of projects that fit into that projection.

We need to start with asking a set of questions that derive from the thesis of the article:

  • – What is the composition that we want of this community? What type of diversity? How do we accommodate students? What are the ranges of statewide population growth that we need to plan for?
  • – To achieve that community composition, what is the range of target housing price? Given the projected UCD enrollment targets (which are basically out of our control), how much additional housing is needed under different scenarios of additional on campus housing?
  • – What is the jobs mix that supports that community composition under different scenarios? What’s the job mix that minimizes commuting and associated GHG emissions? 
  • – What’s the mix of businesses, jobs and housing that move toward fiscal stability for the City in these scenarios? 
  • – Then in the end we arrive at a set of preferred growth rates that are appropriate for the scenarios that we’ve constructed. We can then develop our general plan to accommodate these preferred scenarios. 

My wife and I put forward one vision for Davis to focus on sustainable food development as an economic engine. I’m sure there’s other viable ideas. We need a forum that dives into these and formulates our economic plan rather than just bumbling along as we seem to be doing now. This is only likely to get worse with the fundamental changes after the pandemic.

I’ll go further to say that one of the roots of this problem is the increasing opaqueness of City decision making. “Playing it safe” is the byword for City planning, just when that’s what is most likely to hurt us. That’s why we proposed a fix to the fundamental way decisions are made by the City.

There’s a long list of poor decisions created by this opaqueness that shows how this has cost the City tens of millions of dollars. He points out symptoms of a much deeper problem that is impeding us from developing a long term vision.

It may seem like so much “inside baseball” to focus on the nuts and bolts of process, but its that process that is at the root of the crisis, as boring as that may seem. 

 

Moving forward on Flood-MAR with pilots

The progress on implementing floodwater managed aquifer recharge programs (Flood-MAR) reminds me of the economist’s joke, “sure it works in practice, but does it work in theory?” A lot of focus seems to be on trying to refine the technical understanding of recharge, without going with what we already know about aquifer replenishment from decades of applications.

The Department of Water Resources Flood-MAR program recently held a public forum to discuss its research program. I presented a poster (shown above) on the findings of a series of studies we conducted for Sustainable Conservation on the economic and financial considerations for establishing these programs. (I posted about this last February.)

My conclusion from the presentations and the other publications we’ve followed is that the next step is to set up pilots using different institutional set ups and economic incentives. The scientists and engineers can further refine their findings, but we generally know where the soils are better for percolation versus others, and we know that crop productivity won’t fall too much where fields are flooded. The real issues fall into five categories, of which we’ve delved into four in our Floodwater Recharge Memos.

Benefits Diagrams_Page_5

The first is identifying the beneficiaries and the potential magnitude of those benefits. As can be seen in the flow chart above, there many more potential beneficiaries than just the local groundwater users. Some of these benefits require forecast informed reservoir operations (FIRO) to realize those gains through reduced flood control space, increased water supply storage and greater summertime hydropower output. Flood-MAR programs can provide the needed margin of error to lower the risk from FIRO.

FloodMAR Poster - Financing

The second is finding the funding mechanisms to compensate growers or to build dedicated recharge basins. We prepared a list of potential financing mechanisms linked to the potential beneficiaries. (This list grew out of another study that we prepared for the Delta Protection Commission on feasible options for beneficiary-pays financing.)

FloodMAR Poster Incentives

The third is determining what type of market incentive transactions mechanisms would work best at attracting the most preferred operations and acreage. I have explored the issues of establishing unusual new markets for a couple of decades, including for water rights transfer and air quality permit trading. It is not a simple case of “declaring markets exist” and then walking away. Managing institutions have important roles in setting up, running and funding any market, and most particularly for those that manage what were “public goods” that individuals and firms were able to use for free. The table above lists the most important considerations in establishing those markets.

The fourth assessing what type of infrastructure investment will produce the most cost-effective recharge. Construction costs (which we evaluated) is one aspect, and impacts on agricultural operations and financial feasibility are other considerations. The chart at the top summarizes the results from comparing several case studies. These will vary by situation, but remarkably, these options appear to cost substantially less than any surface storage projects currently being proposed.

The final institutional issue to be addressed, but not the least important, is determining the extent of rights over floodwaters and aquifers. California state law and regulations are just beginning to grapple with these issues. Certain areas are beginning to assert protection of their existing rights. This issue probably represents the single biggest impediment to these programs before attracting growers to participate.

All of these issues can be addressed in a range of pilot programs which use different variables to test which are likely to be more successful. Scientists and engineers can use these pilots to test for the impacts of different types of water diversion and application. Statistical regression analysis can provide us much of what we know without having to understand the hydrological dynamics. Legal rights can be assessed by providing temporary permits that might be modified as we learn more from the pilots.

Is it time to move forward with local pilot programs? Do we know enough that we can demonstrate the likely benefits? What other aspects should we explore before moving to widespread adoption and implementation?

Make “Sustainable Food” the Economic Engine of Downtown Davis

 

innovation-for-sustainable-food-and-agriculture-11-638

Many communities around the region, such as Sacramento and Woodland, have jumped on the “farm to fork” bandwagon to promote their relationships with agriculture. Davis can distinguish itself from the crowd by taking this a step further to promote itself as the center of “sustainable food.” In doing this, Davis can develop placemaking that is the key to economic development and vitality.

Davis is home to one of the top-rated food production research universities in the world in UC Davis. The City of Davis should leverage this position and strengthen its relationship to reinvigorate the downtown. The City has an opportunity as part of its Downtown Davis or Core Area Specific Plan to define a vision to achieve that goal.

Sustainable food minimizes damages to the planet in its cultivation, production, preparation, consumption and disposal. It is largely plant-based because this is the most direct way to deliver calories and protein to our diets. Animal production has much higher waste products, resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and tainted food per calorie or gram of protein. For example, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, beef production emits four times as much greenhouse gases (GHGs) per calorie than soybeans or wheat and twice as much GHGs per gram of protein. Given California’s goal to be a “net carbon zero” emitter by 2045, the state will need to take a wide range of steps to cut emissions across the board, including in food production and consumption. Sustainable food is also more ethically consistent and healthful than our current food production and consumption patterns.

Sustainable food has been in the press frequently of late, with numerous stories in the Bay Area media. San Francisco has become the venture capital center of the world—especially for sustainable food–but real estate is becoming too expensive there to allow an industry that focuses on physical products sufficient space. Davis is close enough to that center for easy communication, but still has comparatively inexpensive land.

Creating a sustainable food ecology in Davis would have five aspects:

  1. Supporting innovation in sustainable food production and distribution
  2. Providing sustainable infrastructure to support companies that are innovating
  3. Serving and delivering sustainable food locally
  4. Preparing food that is consumed locally in a sustainable manner
  5. Attracting sustainable food-oriented tourism

The City can focus development of a sustainable food industry hub in the “Flex District” proposed for the G Street Corridor in the Downtown Plan. This area could house a wider range of facilities, such as test labs, within easy access distance of the UCD campus and the Capitol Corridor train to the Bay Area. Larger research facilities can be housed in other parts of the City where larger, industrial facilities are more appropriate.

Part of the attraction to companies locating here could be a sustainable infrastructure configuration starting in this district, with a district energy network and electric microgrid supporting fully electrified space conditioning and water heating systems. The other sustainability attributes identified in the Downtown Davis Plan should be incorporated and highlighted.

We can also encourage existing restaurants to serve more sustainable food on their menus, and attract new restaurants to cater to the new sustainable food businesses and their employees. The investors and workers at these companies are much more likely to follow their ethical beliefs in their consumption choices. The City could provide incentives through reduced fees to existing businesses, and evaluate how to speed the start up of new businesses.

As part of establishing a sustainable environment, the City should facilitate switching restaurants to more sustainable preparation practices. This includes switching from natural gas to induction cooktops and convection ovens, district water heating and space conditioning, and better management of waste. (Yes, we may need to recruit chefs for this new challenge.)

Finally, Davis can become a sustainable food destination. Less than 20% of our downtown visitors are from out of town according to analysis by consultants to City working on the Downtown Davis Plan. Given our location on the Capitol Corridor train route and Interstate 80, the community has much room for growth in tourism to boost our economy beyond UCD students’ parents visiting in September and June.

Davis already has a core attraction in its world-famous Farmers’ Market. With the addition of plant-based oriented restaurants and closer integration with the Mondavi Center entertainment area, a visitor could easily spend a whole day in Davis with a quick trip on the train from the Bay Area. Implementing this vision just needs closer coordination with UCD to bring events to Mondavi and the new Shrem Art Museum on Saturdays and setting up an electric bus shuttle between there and downtown.

UCD’s Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Sciences provides an example of how local development can be both sustainable and invigorating. That locale now has a microgrid that relies on renewable power. Both UCD and the City could benefit from a closer relationship centered around sustainable food in several dimensions.

Implementing all of this vision requires going beyond the form-based zoning codes that will come out of the Core Area Specific Plan. The City needs a comprehensive economic development plan, direction and resources for its economic development staff, and a willingness to focus on removing the barriers to bringing and supporting these businesses in Davis.

(with Anya McCann, COOL Cuisine)

Reblog: Inconvenient Truths about Landowner (Un)Willingness to Grow Dedicated Bioenergy Crops: Choices Magazine

Dedicated production of biofuels has been a Holy Grail for the sector, but this study finds that this is unlikely.

Source: 4th Quarter 2016 | Choices Magazine Online

Economic Analysis of the 2016 California Drought for Agriculture | California WaterBlog

by Josué Medellín-Azuara, Duncan MacEwan, Richard E. Howitt, Daniel A. Sumner, and Jay R. Lund The drought continues for California’s agriculture in 2016, but with much less severe and widespread i…

Source: Economic Analysis of the 2016 California Drought for Agriculture | California WaterBlog

Rethinking the rates that utilities offer to customers

I just got back from an annual conference put on by the Center for Research in Regulated Industries. It brings together many of the applied economists and policy analysts working in California’s electricity industry. I presented a paper on reconsidering rate design.

Customers are often left out of the conversation about how to move forward into the new energy future, as they were at the recent CAISO Symposium where not a single customer representative was included in the “Town Hall Meeting.” Current retail rate tariffs seem to be designed with little thought about how customers would prefer to pay for their energy, and what might best encourage consumer energy management. And when customers are asked to take on more risk or cost to address energy needs, their revenue responsibility is often unchanged.

How should utilities align their rates and tariffs to fit customers’ preferences? Utilities both face a rapidly evolving energy marketplace and have available to them a larger portfolio of technologies to provide more services and to measure usage across different dimensions. One important step that utilities could take is to offer customers the same variety of contracts as the utilities make with their suppliers, so that rates mirror the power market.

Customers have a range of preferences, and some prefer to be more innovative or risk takers than others. To better match the market, should utilities offer a range of tariffs, and even allow customers to construct a portfolio of rates that allow a mix of hedging strategies? How should the costs be allocated equitably to customers to reflect the varying risks in those portfolios? How should the benefits of lower costs be allocated between the active and passive customers? The new metering infrastructure also provides opportunities for different billing strategies.

How should time varying rate (TVR) periods be structured to adapt to the potential shift over time when peak meter loads occur? Should the periods be defined by utility-side resources or the combination with customer-side resources? Is the meter an arbitrary division for setting the price? What is the balance between rate stability to encourage customer investment versus matching changing system costs? Should the utilities offer different TVR periods depending on the desired incentives for customer response?
In developing costs, how should utilities and commissions consider how resources are added, and in what capacity? Renewables are now part of the incremental resources for “new” load, and we can no longer rely on the assumption that fossil fuels are the marginal resource 100% of the time.

The “super off-peak” rate offered by Southern California Edison (SCE) to agricultural customers is one example of how a rate can be constructed to encourage customer participation in autonomous ongoing energy management. Are the incentives appropriate for that rate? Over what term should these rates be set given customer investment?

If you’re interested in this paper, drop me a line and I’ll send it along.

The Elusive Potential of California’s Water Supply

NRDC and the Pacific Institute just released a report purporting to show the potential for large water savings in California in the face of our severe drought. While laying out the technical potential in a static setting is a useful exercise, this report can be misleading about the true potential for water savings without significant institutional and political change. The report doesn’t account for how farmers actually respond to improved irrigation efficiencies, and how residential customers resist changing their landscapes and using recycled water.

Starting with farmers, we found in a study on the benefits of aggregating PG&E’s agricultural accounts that growers were using subsurface drip systems increase tomato yields by as much as 50%. In Fresno County, processed tomato yields have risen 26% in 5 years as flood irrigation has been replaced by drip. In addition, the amount of runoff has been reduced, so on net the new efficient irrigation technologies have lead to increased productivity with no reduction in water use.

Residential customers are resistant to the idea that they should give up their lush landscaping. As I posted previously, even in environmentally-friendly Davis, voters rejected a new rate structure that would have encouraged summer water conservation. And they are just as thrilled with using recycled water. A 2004 SDCWA survey found that 63% of residents didn’t want recycled water introduced into their drinking water. All of this adds up to political resistance to change that water professionals see as a “no-brainer.”

Another question is what happens to the downstream and groundwater basin users who now depend on runoff for their water supplies? Particularly in agriculture, water is often reused several times as it drains or percolates to the next user. Calculating the true potential savings requires a full water-budget analysis of a basin, not just adding up all of the individual savings without considering the synergism among them.

And finally, what happens to the ability to respond to variations in water conditions? Urban water agencies are already concerned about “demand hardening.” Farmers have moved to higher yield, more profitable orchard crops, but as a result they can’t easily accommodate large swings in water availability. Managing our water supply isn’t just about reducing the average consumption–it’s about creating a less vulnerable system.