From the Fields® - June 25, 2008
By Mike Mellano, San Diego County
Water, water, water...where it comes from and where it goes has never been more important. We in the south are and have been acutely aware of this and the current drought has only driven that message home. We don't have it so we can't waste it and we can't let it go off site. Currently we are faced with exploring every alternative water source and figuring out ways to put it to use. Compromised-quality well water, reverse osmosis and desalination plants and expansion of reclaimed municipal waste water supplies all come into play.
Our own farms are among the fortunate and have either well water or reclaimed water sources available but as we know that could change. Both have their issues but at least we have them (for now); others aren't so fortunate. Reclaimed water, although it is available to us, has proven to be a problematic source. Quality is generally poor and highly variable from day to day and we must find ways to improve both if we hope to use it as a long-term source.
On the flip side of the equation, what runs off must be accounted for. We are actively forming a runoff monitoring group for our county in order to comply with our Regional Water Quality Control Board's agricultural waiver requirement. We are fortunate to have our local Farm Bureau spearheading this effort and look forward to it saving our local growers.
By Jonathan DeGroot, Fresno County
Being a California dairyman has changed quite a bit over the past few years, and the new waste discharge requirements have presented a very new challenge to the industry. The ultimate goal of the general order presented by the Regional Water Quality Control Board is to determine whether a dairy is correctly handling its dairy waste and to resolve discharge issues on the dairies not meeting certain criteria. Sadly enough, older dairies, or dairies that do not own enough property, and dairies that cannot find a home for their waste could possibly be forced to move or even be shut down.
Furthermore, dairies needing structural changes could have to pay large sums of money to come into compliance. So, the goal in mind is good, but getting there will be a very rough road.
Right now, we are coming up on our July 1 deadline, when we will be turning in our annual report. Our first deadline was Dec. 31, 2007, when we turned in our preliminary dairy facility assessments and existing conditions report. These reports included facility maps, cow numbers, property info and natural resources used, as well as a ton of other things. The whole process was very time consuming. I am currently working on our July 1 annual report, which requires a little less info. We are updating the December reports and adding a little bit of new information.
We also are continuing our monitoring and reporting program. This includes weekly and monthly self-inspections of the lagoon, including a photo on the first of the month, and monitoring all wastewater discharges to the fields, also keeping track of the solid manure and where it is going. This process takes a good amount of time. Dairies are also being required to have a sampling and analysis plan. We are currently collecting samples of solid manure, wastewater, domestic and irrigation well water, soils and plant tissue. Not only does this step take a lot of time, the dairyman is also responsible for paying the lab to analyze the samples, which has become very expensive.
By Pete Belluomini, Kern County
Currently in our Arvin-Edison area in the south-eastern corner of the San Joaquin Valley, our district here is federal water, the Friant-Kern system, and this district has quite a banking program that's been in place for quite some time; it's not anything new. So luckily with that already in place, this year's water supply is relatively secure. Most of the crops in this area are early tree fruit, early vegetables, so a lot of things are basically over. We're through a lot of our push. We do have some fall vegetables--potatoes and carrots, and quite a bit of that will be going in. But, because of the banking system of this district, we're in pretty good shape. The water tables in this area aren't too bad.
I think this summer and fall are under control, if there's such a thing. But looking ahead to next year, it may not be the case. If Mother Nature doesn't improve this coming fall and winter, what we need to do as farmers and what we're looking at is, can we really farm every acre? Are there some acres that we need to fallow? A lot of our neighbors do quite a bit of double-cropping. While that may be one way to spread the cost and try to make money, it may be prohibitive with the water situation if it doesn't improve. It could be that the district has to take a larger role in enforcing how much water can be used on any given acre for a season.
While those rules exist, there's always been enough to go around so that if there's a little extra used on one side of the street, odds are somebody on the other side of the street didn't use every drop, so it evens out pretty good. We've been pretty fortunate. But the way we're looking right now for next year, it could be where everybody has to buckle down. If you're allotted so much, that's all you're going to do and don't bother to ask for more or expect to grab a little extra from the neighbor because it's probably not going to be there.
By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial County
All of our water in the Imperial Valley is delivered through the Colorado River by way of the All-American Canal, so we actually have very good water quality considering that it's an open source. We have strong water protection rights in the Imperial Valley. We work under the 3.1 million acre-feet allotment that is dedicated to Imperial Valley, and that's in the 12-month period.
What we're trying to do now is to have as close to a zero-grade fall in our drainage areas. In other words, when we drain out the water, we want the field to be as flat or dead-level as possible. The faster water moves the more silt will move with it, so our drains are fairly flat, then silt has an opportunity to settle there and then we can just maintain our drains by cleaning those out every so often. Every third or fourth month, we can go through and remove silt with either a scrapper or a Rhino or grader. We'll even do as much as plant wheat every 60 feet so that it backs up the water a little bit as it drains off. That's creating a little bit of a dam effect so that silt will settle. We're trying to keep as much silt out of the drainage system as possible. It's actually improved farming methods over the last couple of years. We're finding it to be relatively successful. That is something that we as a county monitor ourselves and the farmers have accepted that responsibility, and as far as I know, it's almost 100 percent participation amongst all farmers.
By Mary Cameron, Kings County
California dairy producers are going to have another tough year. The milk price is going up but our cost of production is even higher than our income. Feed prices and fuel costs have doubled and tripled. We are also worried about water availability and costs. We need to convince our California legislators that more water storage is necessary to help us through the drought years. Our irrigation district will be charging $55 per acre-foot and we all know how much water it takes to grow corn and alfalfa hay. It is difficult to understand why our water is needed to save an "endangered species" called delta smelt which came from Japan 20 years ago. Farmers need the water to grow crops to provide food. Which is more important, an imported fish or food on our table?