Project Leader Don Schukraft, Weather Network, Inc.
|If anyone ever doubted the rice industry's commitment to clean
air, they need only take a look at its agricultural burning program. Through an extensive
network of computerized monitoring equipment and the application of meteorological
science, this program has become an unqualified environmental success.
The burning season started last year on September 15. Burning continued intermittently until December 1, the second consecutive year in which fields were burned until December. There were 11 designated "no burn" days when atmospheric conditions would not allow for good dispersion of rice smoke.
Altogether, growers burned 165,000 acres, up slightly from the previous year. This figure will undoubtedly decline in the years ahead as the legislatively mandated phase down takes effect. The most acreage burned on any one day was 20,435 acres on October 28. The daily average burned was 2,141 acres, the highest since 1988.
One of the ways in which the program has been able to preserve air quality is by maximizing burning on days when weather conditions allow for good smoke dispersal. Ironically, the phase down will hurt the program's flexibility in taking advantage of good burn days, especially once the figure hits 50 percent.
Complaints about rice smoke were down 50 percent from the preceding year to a total of 59. Half the complaints came from areas with large population centers - Butte and Sacramento counties. While favorable weather conditions may have helped reduce complaints, prudent and cautious management decisions also played a key role.
Preparation for the ag burning program begins long before growers send their first harvesters into the fields. Wind speed, relative humidity, air temperature and other weather-related factors affecting management decisions are monitored at 17 Sacramento Valley locations by the Automatic Meteorological Observing Station (AMOS) network.
In June and July program personnel gave AMOS a tune up, with a complete testing and calibration of radio equipment and sensors. Enclosures for data-recording equipment were replaced to better protect them from the elements. Temperature and relative humidity sensors were also upgraded and new datalogger software was installed at each weather station. These changes will help eliminate malfunctions and improve data analysis.
Program personnel also reinstalled echosonde equipment at the Natomas and Codora monitoring sites. These devices use sound waves to measure the strength, depth and breakup of morning inversions.
Additionally, the weather station at Dixon was removed because it was becoming increasingly difficult to reach through radio telemetry. The radio and antenna were transferred to an existing weather station near Woodland.
The city of Sacramento has at times some of the worst air pollution in the country. While some public figures and erroneous media reports continue to lambaste rice burning as the culprit, the evidence is not there to support it.
On the contrary, one of the indices of air pollution - Coefficient of Haze or COH - was at low levels even on days when there was a fair amount of rice burning. In fact, November 13, the day with the highest COH reading, was a no burn day: rice smoke was not a factor.
The facts prove that not only is the Agricultural Burning Program doing an excellent job of minimizing the impact of rice straw burning on air quality but that rice smoke is not a major contributor to the air pollution problems of the Sacramento Valley.