From the Fields® - June 18, 2008
By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County
Here in the Turlock Irrigation District, we were cutback from our normal allotment of 48 inches per year. This year we get 30 inches and we can buy an additional foot of water. Relatively speaking we are a lot better than most places.
We are all surface water irrigation, and the cutback has affected some of the crops and some of the rotations. We raise a lot of corn and alfalfa around here because there are a tremendous number of dairies, especially in northern Merced and all of Stanislaus County. Corn needs three to four acre-feet of water per year, especially in the sandier spots, so that has affected them. Some guys have cut back and idled some acres. I even raise some corn and I am rotating one field into pumpkins on drip irrigation just so I'll have enough water for my corn. It affects the rotation.
I've heard that cotton guys are walking away from their crops and alfalfa fields are being let go. Permanent crops so far seem to be OK, but some of the almond growers are having a tough time. I think most of the guys in the Turlock Irrigation District will be able to get by for the most part this year. Next year we will be definitely more affected if there is another year of drought.
Everyone has to pay close attention to his or her water use, no doubt about it.
By David Lundberg, Butte County
I'm in two different water districts--Richvale and Western Canal--and we were very fortunate because we didn't get cut this year. We have pretty good water rights up here. The state can cut us up to 50 percent, but they chose not to do that this year. I'm sure we are going to be cut next year, that's the key.
Even though we aren't really directly impacted this year, we all recognize the seriousness of the situation and are doing everything we can to conserve water. For example, we are all watching our water very carefully every day and have minimal spills at the end. Instead of spilling an inch, we're maybe spilling a quarter inch. We are watching to make sure we are using just what we need.
One of our ranches is metered so we can tell how much water we are using and we can really fine-tune it. We know exactly what our water use is from year to year.
We know we need more reservoirs and maybe this will be a wakeup call for the decision makers. Too bad something like this has to happen before anything is done.
By Pat Borrelli, Merced County
I have two water sources, federal water and the Central California Irrigation District. On the federal water that we got, I thought I was going to have enough. But when they announced what they call rationing, they only allowed us so much water for the next three months, June July and August. So I will have to stretch the water I've got left to August. I have cotton planted on these acres and basically I have just two more irrigations fir it. Usually we would have put five to six irrigations over that period of time. There's no doubt it is going to affect the crop. This is the worst that I've ever seen it. The last time we had a drought I didn't have any federal water.
The Central California Irrigation District is the source of my other water. The district cut us back also for the next three months and that will set us back. When we get into August on the alfalfa, I just hope we can stretch it somehow. The next three months are the critical months. Fortunately I don't have any permanent trees. My neighbors with trees and other permanent crops are having a more difficult time.
If we have a dry year next year we probably won't plant anything and we'll just dry farm it I guess. And with the price of fuel to pump water, it is just going to cost a ton of money. I thought I was in pretty good shape going into the planting season. Then the cutbacks were announced and everything changed. I hope it gets better before it gets worse.
By Gary Esajian, Kings County
We're on the ragged edge of making it with the water supply we've been allotted. Historically out here irrigation wells have been used, but very infrequently. Right now, however, we're stepping pretty hard on the accelerator pedal to pump as much groundwater as we can.
For us to get through this 90-day restriction period for water deliveries from Westlands Water District, the moon and stars are going to have to align. I hate to say it that way, but we're talking about luck.
We've had some help from neighbors and other people with water supply. We're all working together to try to get through this crop year.
I always read about the need for water conservation, but there just isn't a whole lot left for us to do. If the crops aren't drip irrigated, then the fields have been laser or gps leveled. Not a drop of water leaves this farm.
We have spent millions of dollars on irrigation efficiency equipment trying to use every drop of water to its fullest. That's how it always has been on our farm. We've leveled, re-leveled, dripped, re-dripped. We've sprinkled and stretched. But there's a capital restriction, you just can't go out spend all that money at once.
My dad and my grandfather farmed here in the valley starting in the 1920s, right after my grandfather came over from Armenia. We've farmed in Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties.
From my perspective, the only way I can see improving reliability of the water supply is a peripheral canal. That seem's like the only way to get the water here. We've got to have conveyance so we can have water, unless I'm missing something in the discussion.
And, at the same time, we've got to develop more surface storage and better infrastructure to move that supply around. California is growing and there's no stopping it.
But, the problem with trying to develop new sources of water supply is the constant roadblocks. It seems like it's the people in business who suffer over this problem. It's not the people who live in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They still get their water.
By Ed Hale, Imperial County
We're just getting the last of our sugar beet crop harvested and to the processor. We had adequate water for this year's crop and the outlook for water in the short-term is fine. The snowshed that supplies the Colorado River had 110 percent of normal snowpack. Even after a number of dry years, the supply will be adequate.
But that will not always be the case as history has shown. Given the requirements of the 70-year Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) farmers in the Imperial Valley can't adopt the true conservation measures they'd like to because they're required to send runoff to the Salton Sea.
Imperial farmers are still wrestling with implementation of the QSA. It's a far from perfect document. And, added to the challenges it creates, there are concerns about the outlook for Colorado River water supplies in the future. There are just too many straws sucking from the river and that's greatly reducing the river's volume.
To help ease the supply problem in the future, we need to adopt the Concentric Lakes Plan, which the Imperial County Farm Bureau has endorsed. Although the plan is complex, in general it calls for gradually reducing the size of the Salton Sea while at the same time improving habitat for fish and migratory birds.
A smaller, healthier sea would allow farmers to reduce water flowing from their fields into the sea and enable them to adopt true conservation measures, such as drip irrigation and pumpback systems.
The conserved water would then allow us to continue producing food and still be able to transfer the significant volumes of water required for urban use under the QSA.