West Marin Cattle Ranchers Facing Dire Water Shortages – CBS San Francisco
MARIN COUNTY (CBS SF) — When it comes to the drought, the situation for agriculture has gone from worrisome to downright scary. And anyone who plans on eating beef this year will likely feel the affects as well.
In West Marin County’s cattle country, the outlook is especially bleak.
It’s a little hard for Mike Giamonna to believe as he rumbles across his West Marin cattle ranch. The grass should be green and waist-high at this time of year. Instead, his cattle are foraging through inch-high stubble.
“We’re seeing conditions now that we would see in July and August,” said Giamonna. “So, what’s August, September going to bring us? We don’t know. It’s scary.”
But the biggest problem isn’t the grass; it’s getting enough water up to the cattle so they don’t die of thirst. Natural springs that would normally refill the water troughs have slowed to a trickle or dried up completely.
Some ranchers are already trucking in water, bringing back memories of the drought of 1976.
“I remember my dad hauling water back then, but not much. The older ranches that are around here say this is far worse than what they saw in the ’70s. Far worse is what they’re saying,” explained Giamonna.
But Giamonna is luckier than most. He has a small reservoir on the west side of his property and has run about five miles of pipeline to be able to refill the troughs on the east side. Without that, the property would be useless as pastureland.
He got help from the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, or MALT, which is offering farmers grants of up to $15,000 to try to survive the drought.
“We started the next day. As soon as they gave us the thumbs up, at 7 o’clock the next morning, we started laying pipe because we were that close,” said Giamonna.
“I mean, it speaks to the urgency of the needs right now,” said MALT’s Stewardship Program Manager Eric Rubenstahl. “The urgency is high and people need water yesterday. So the faster we can move with our resources and our money and technical assistance, the better it is for the landowners out here.”
Giamonna says he and other ranchers will sell off some of their herd for slaughter, which will temporarily flood the market and drive prices down. But then the price of beef will likely skyrocket anywhere from 20% to 50%.
One question that emerges is what will happen if this kind of drought becomes the new normal.
“I don’t know, honestly. I don’t know,” said Giamonna. “You probably won’t see a lot of agriculture surviving this, is my guess. We don’t want to think about that too much, but it’s a reality that we have to.”
MALT’s doing what it can, but as a nonprofit, its donated funds are limited. They say government funding could help keep some farmers and ranchers going for now, but if next year is also dry, it may not even matter.
The land trust is soliciting donations from the public for its drought survival fund. For more information, visit www.malt.org