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.

Water Wisdom From A Lemon Grower

Water Wisdom: All Water is Recyled; We Are Not Losing It

By Brian German, Associate Editor

Keith Frietas, a lemon grower along the Kings River on the East Side of Fresno County, recently reflected on the value of water with California Ag Today, “I think that people are losing their perspective on the value of the resource. Our concept of the value of water is we’ve had it at our beck-and-call for all of our lives, especially our generation; never had to think about it; never had to worry about it. But there are people in the world who get up before the sun comes in the morning, put on a backpack full of empty containers, walk eight to nine miles, and put their lives at risk to get their daily supply of fresh water.”

Freitas does everything he can to use water as efficiently as possible, and passionately described his water management practices. “Because we live in Fresno and care about our little percentage of water, our take of that resource has to be commensurate with the share we give back to the world by using that water. So, our concept as water users takes the form of being stewards of that limited resource. I want the rest of the public and the world around me to understand that and trust that I have the skills to be a good water steward .”

Addressing the cycle of water, agricultural water in particular, Freitas said, “No fresh water leaves the earth. It all gets recycled. So farmers take that water, put it on the ground, grow 25 pounds of tomatoes and give all that water back–98 percent of it in tomatoes–plus the nutrients from that tomato we need to sustain a healthy life.”

Freitas noted how the water cycle could become even more efficient with increasing technological advances. “They’ve got five different stages of filtering wastewater now. Once we start implementing those five filtration stages, people will be able to eat that tomato, and within a week, the water from that tomato will be recycled back into use, back into the community where the tomato was consumed.”

Despite current statewide water restrictions and financial penalties for offenders, water is still being wasted. Freitas believes we must shift how our culture thinks about water to accomplish real change in water stewardship, “When you can’t change the dynamic of that mindset, you can’t force change by billing your way out of a drought.”