Groundwater Recharge at Terranova Ranch

Major Groundwater Recharge Program at Terranova Ranch Progresses

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Don Cameron, manager of Fresno County-based Terranova Ranch has been working with the Kings River Conservation District (KRCD) on a groundwater recharge plan for nearly 20 years to convey floodwaters from the Kings River across Terranova Ranch and other properties in the area. “It has been a long, hard, committed struggle,” said Cameron, “but in 2011, we got Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) involved.

“Once we submitted our grant application to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), they reviewed it and awarded us a $5 million grant, which really got the project off the ground,” said Cameron.

“We are in the third year of work with the grant and we are currently doing the environmental studies with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). We are still very much involved in the engineering phase and we are putting a lot of agreements together with all the neighboring agencies that we have to work with,” Cameron said.

Logistically, Terranova Ranch is in an ideal location to capture potential floodwaters from the Kings River. Adjacent to the North Fork of the Kings River where floodwaters move though the James Bypass to the Mendota Pool, Terranova Ranch, provides the operation a unique opportunity in terms of groundwater recharge.

“We are taking farmland that is in production, and when the floods come, we will direct floodwaters across that land and neighboring land, to recharge the groundwater in our fields,” said Cameron. “We have proven that we can recharge in existing vineyards and tree-crop orchards, as well as in tomato, onion and carrot fields before we plant. We can use the floodwater across our farmland so that we do not need a dedicated basin dug out just for a recharge.”

“We know we can recharge anywhere on our land,” explained Cameron. “We can even turn off our pumps and use the water on the land to irrigate, through our drip systems. There are a lot of different ways to attack the problem. We think this is the best fit for our area, and we hope to be successful in rebuilding our groundwater supply,” said Cameron.

“The plan is to dedicate about 250 acres of ground for recharge,” said Cameron. Low levies will be built around the land when floodwaters are anticipated. We may have crops planted on the fields,” but Cameron hopes to be able to predict floods prior to planting a crop. Nevertheless, Cameron said, “We will flood crops if we need to.”

When the fields are flooded, the water may be as much as 2 to 3 feet deep, or as little as six inches deep. But the goal is to keep the water continuously on those fields to continue the recharge.

And since this is a large project involving state money, CEQA must be involved. Cameron emphasized, “We want to be sure that there is no environmental damage to any possible endangered species anywhere near our farm or near the project we are doing. There are state and federal laws that we have to abide by and so we need to jump through those hoops to get the project approved to completion,” said Cameron.

“We have been working with the project for a long time and we think its time has come,” said Cameron. “We are in the fourth year of a drought now and there is a lot of interest in putting water underground now, rather than building dams. We think dams are necessary as part of the overall water storage for irrigation, but we need both aboveground and below-ground storage.”

Cameron contends this groundwater recharge plan could improve groundwater quantity and quality fairly quickly, and be implemented faster than trying to build a large dam in the state. “We want to do our part here,” he said. “We would hate to see all the floodwater flow by during flood periods. It’s smarter to capture those stormwater flows on the land and into the ground water reservoir. We think it’s a real win for the whole state,” he said, adding there has been a lot of interest in duplicating this type of project throughout the state.

Cameron noted the project is perfect for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2015. “We are going to be ahead of the game on this, which is where we want to be,” he said.

Yet, not fast enough. Though a sizeable El Niño may pound California this fall and winter, bringing potential floodwaters to many rivers, the paperwork for the Terranova Ranch recharge program will not be completed in time. Cameron and the KRCD have been pushing to complete the project, but the agencies that need to sign off are numerous, including:

  • California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) – because floodwaters will be moving to additional landowners east of 145.
  • Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) – because water will need to flow under a natural gas pipeline.
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – because a major cement structure with gate valves must be in place for the floodwater to be extracted from by-pass. “This will essentially mean that the levies will be breached,” said Cameron.

Again, the floodwaters will be flowing north and to the east, to several landowners in the region. Cameron and KRCD have been doing all the setup for everyone, not just themselves. “We hope, in long term, to expand the recharge project to 16,000 acres,” said Cameron.

Crop Diversification at Terranova Ranch

Crop Diversification at Terranova Ranch Provides Stability

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor


Don Cameron
Don Cameron, Terranova Ranch Inc.

Crop diversification is the key to California’s agricultural success. Our climate and soils enable farmers to grow different crops year-round throughout the state. Don Cameron, vice president and general manager of Terranova Ranch Inc. in Helm, Fresno County, oversees the farming of cannery tomatoes, onions, carrots, bell peppers, almonds, walnuts, winegrapes, and even seeds for many other crops.

CalAgToday interviewed Cameron while he was riding a carrot harvester in the midst of harvesting for Grimmway Farms. He observed,“Our crop diversification at Terranova Ranch has really changed over the years. We used to farm cotton, alfalfa, barley and wheat, and that was about it.”

“Now,” said Cameron, “we grow between 20 and 30 different crops, both conventional and organic. There are times when one crop might not do as well as another, so diversification adds stability to our operation.”

And, of course, stability is a good thing on the farm. “We like to have stability,” Cameron commented, “and our workers love the stability because they know they are going to have work long-term, summer and winter. It is a lot more work for us, but in the long-run, it will be valuable for our operation here.”

Crop diversity and the stability it has brought to Terranova Ranch, according to Cameron, have enabled the ranch to retain its employees despite these rough times with fallow fields. “We’ve actually been able to hire some good employees from other farms where they’ve had severe cutbacks in water this year.”

Terranova uses only groundwater, and fortunately the ranch’s wells have held up over the last few years. Terranova is working on a major recharge program across 250 acres of land with water from potential Kings River floods and the James Bypass that crosses the Valley close to the ranch.  Although regulations prevent implementation this year, “when the flood water comes,” said Cameron, “those fields will be flooded for recharge and they will have low berms around them. The water may only be 2-3 feet deep, but the goal is to keep the water continuously on those fields so the recharge persists. The water doesn’t have to be 10 feet deep; it can be merely 6 inches deep as long as it is continually refilled so the recharge holds.”

Drip Irrigation is King During Drought

Terranova Ranch Surviving the Drought: Drip Irrigation

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

As the drought continues to preside, farmers persist in their efforts to improve farming techniques to make the most out of what little water they have available. Don Cameron, general manager of Terra Nova Ranch, Inc., said the 7000-acre ranch in Helm, in Fresno County has managed to keep its 30 crops viable in the middle of the drought by changing its irrigation methods.

“We’ve been able to continue farming the acreage that we have, even in the fourth year of a drought,” Cameron said, “because we’ve changed all of our row crops irrigation to buried drip irrigation. We use every drop of water that we have.”

“We’ve also put in drip irrigation systems on all our trees and vines,” Cameron said. “We have irrigation scheduling. We use evapotranspiration data—we’re not putting on anything more than what we’re actually using.”

“So we’re able to find a solution just to get through these tough times,” Cameron said, “and we hope to have a wet winter and get a good snowpack so next year we’ll have more water. We’re farming like we’re in a drought every year. We’re never really going to go back to the ways that we used to farm.”