Water Projects Were Built to Deliver Surface Water to Farmers
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Water is always a concern while farming on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Daniel Hartwig is the resource manager of Huron-based Woolf Farming and Processing. The company is a multi-generation and multi-crop farming business. Hartwig explains how monitoring and being proactive helps them stay ahead of some of the water issues.
“Like everybody, we’re concerned that there’s not going to be enough water to do everything we’re currently doing,” Hartwig said. “I think we’re just waiting to see and trying to be proactive and get ahead of a lot of these water issues, but at the same time, we’re monitoring it and hopeful that there will be more surface water to make up for what we might be stopped from pumping.”
Not having surface water is a big problem on the west side.
“The entire reason the California Aqueduct and other canals were built was to have surface water to mitigate against the issues they had back in the twenties, thirties, and forties. Back before there was surface water available,” Hartwig explained.
Hartwig said he thinks that President Trump’s memorandum could be helpful.
“Anything that’s going to help give us water and allow it to be more reliable is very helpful. However, the issue is timing and … anything that’s going to take more time is more water loss, and that creates a struggle for all of us,” he explained.
“Regarding pump drilling, there are always discussions going on, but I don’t think we’re at the point yet where we can make any of those decisions just because we don’t know for sure what’s … going to come down the pipeline,” Hartwig said. “We’re evaluating, and we’re monitoring, and trying to be involved in these groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) discussions.”
Again, having surface water is the key to the future, noted Hartwig.
“The lack of surface water is a huge problem. I mean, we would not have to pump as much groundwater if we were able to get as much water as we are supposed to be receiving from the state and federal water projects,” Hartwig said.
Building Above Ground Water Storage Enables Groundwater Recharge
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Dramatically helping to recharge groundwater storage is one of the major benefits of the proposal to build Temperance Flat Dam behind Friant Dam, located to the north and east of Fresno. The new dam would triple the storage that is currently available with Friant Dam. Mario Santoyo, the executive director of the San Joaquin Water Authority, is helping the organization prepare the package to submit to the Water Commission by the August 14 deadline.
“We will be making timed releases to various water districts and amenities that will have groundwater recharging basins,” Santoyo said. “First, we need storage and then some time to move above ground water to underground storage. This is a physics necessity and directly counters those who argue we should not build above ground infrastructure if we need only underground storage. Well, if you don’t have above ground water storage, you ain’t putting any below. It is as simple as that.”
“There are two water conveyances from Friant and [the proposed] Temperance Flat Dams: the Friant-Kern Canal – the longest of the two primary canals – and the Madera Canal. Friant moves water south to Bakersfield, and Madera conveys it north to Chowchilla.”
“We will have one of the strongest applications to receive monies,” said Santoyo, assuring that the water authority will receive the package on time.
Now this is important,” Santoyo stressed. “A new video, ‘Build Temperance Flat,’ is now on YouTube. The video aims to educate Californians on the importance of building Temperance Flat Dam.” Santoyo urges those who are on social media to send the URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f30o_dQNmn8 “to as many people as you can!”
Tulare County’s top ten crops [crop value] in 2015 were:
Cattle & Calves
Oranges- Navels & Valencias
Almonds Meats & Hulls
Tangerines – Fresh
Corn – Grain & Silage
Silage – Small Grain
Kinoshita explained, “Dairy is our number one industry here. Our milk production was off a little bit. We have fewer dairies in business now because of the low milk prices. Anytime your fresh market milk is off, that’s going to affect our overall value. A good 2/3 of that billion-dollar decrease came from the dairy industry. The price was low the entire year, as opposed to the year before.”
Thus far, the reported 2015 county crop reports in the Central Valley are down this year. “Fresno County, for instance, was down 6.5% off its record $7 billion in 2014,” Kinoshita said.
“It has a lot to do with low water deliveries in Fresno and Tulare Counties,” she continued. “The smaller the water deliveries, the more efficient those growers have to be with that water. Anytime you’re pumping water out of the ground, it’s terribly expensive,” she noted.
“Some of our growers have had to decide, ‘All right, I’ve got this much water; I’m going to keep those blocks alive and I’m going to push an older block that isn’t producing as well.’ The returns aren’t as good as some of the newer plantings,” said Kinoshita.
Despite all of that, Kinoshita said agriculture does sit at the head of the table in Tulare County. “Yes, and we need a successful Ag industry to thrive here,” she said.
Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, noted the crop report demonstrates the strength of the agricultural industry. “I think every year when this crop report comes out, it is always a testament to the resiliency of this industry. This industry takes hard knocks, gets knocked down, then steps right back up to the plate and keeps swinging,” Blattler said. “The agricultural sector has a lot of outside challenges that impact the number that we see reported every year.”
Blattler acknowledged the crop value numbers do not reflect net revenue for growers. “It’s always really important for our listeners to know that the crop value is a gross revenue number. When our Ag Commissioner steps to the microphone and speaks to our Board of Supervisors about this report each year, she’s reflecting values that are attributed to all of the gross revenue, and it’s not only the field value,” Blattler said.
“That gross number reported each year also represents our packing houses, our milk processing facilities—the creameries, the butter plants—the packing sheds, all those other parts of our industry that [create] value in our industry,” said Blattler.
Blattler noted up or down, it’s all about the resiliency of farmers. “The industry has its years that are really blockbuster and it has its years when it falls back and we see a reduction acreage. We see reductions in surface water deliveries. The drought is still certainly playing a significant role in the numbers we’re seeing,” she explained.
With regard to surface water, Tulare County is in a bit of a unique position. “As an Eastside county, some of our water deliveries are not as subject to the situation that the Westside is in. In the same sense, we have some significant cutbacks that have been attributed to the San Joaquin River’s restoration and the biological opinions in the Delta—all have had an impact on the Central San Joaquin Valley [water] deliveries regardless of whether you’re Eastside or Westside.
“Also, as the exchange contractors either take greater deliveries of water or give up water, that also impacts the amount available to Eastside growers here in Tulare County,” she said.
In summary, 2015 Tulare Crop Report covers more than 120 different commodities, 45 of which have a gross value in excess of $1 million. Although individual commodities may experience difficulties from year to year, Tulare County continues to produce high quality crops that provide food and fiber to more than 90 countries worldwide.
Proposed Changes to Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) Could Impact Farmers Statewide
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor
The recently proposed changes to the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP), open for public comment until Wednesday, May 18, could significantly impact farmers, according to Casey Creamer, coordinator for the Kings River Water Quality Coalition. “The proposed modifications concern the east San Joaquin Region, within Madera, Merced and Stanislaus Counties,” Creamer said. “That’s the scope of it.”
According to the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) website, ILRP “regulates discharges from irrigated agricultural lands. This is done by issuing waste discharge requirements (WDRs) or conditional waivers of WDRs (Orders) to growers.” Discharges include irrigation runoff, flows from tile drains and storm water runoff, which can transport “pollutants including pesticides, sediment, nutrients, salts (including selenium and boron), pathogens, and heavy metals, from cultivated fields into surface waters. Orders contain conditions requiring water quality monitoring of receiving waters and corrective actions when impairments are found.”
While ILRP currently targets only the east San Joaquin region, Creamer said, “It’s a precedent-setting deal, so everything in there is going to affect not only the entire Central Valley, but the Central Coast and the Imperial Valley—that may not have near the issues or the current regulatory programs that we have here in the Central Valley. So, its very important statewide.”
Creamer emphasized, “Farmers need to know that this is not a minor issue; this is a big issue that affects their livelihoods and their ability to operate. They need to get involved. They need to communicate with their other growers, communicate with their associations, get involved and have their voices heard.”
The State Water Board is hosting a public workshop on the proposed order on Tuesday, May 17, in Fresno—one day prior to the closing of the ILRP public comment period. The workshop will be held at 9:00 a.m. in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Central Region, 1990 E. Gettysburg Avenue, Fresno.
The SWRCB is also soliciting written comments on the proposed order. Written comments must be received by 5:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Please indicate in the subject line, “Comments to A-2239(a)-(c).” Electronic submission of written comments is encouraged. Written comments must be addressed to:
The Kings River Water Quality Coalition is a non-profit joint powers agency established by the irrigation districts in the Kings River service area. It is governed by a board of directors of landowners from each of the districts. Staffing of the Coalition is administered through an agreement with the Kings River Conservation District located in Fresno. The Coalition was formed in 2009 in order to allow growers within the region a cost-effective avenue to comply with the regulations developed by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. The Coalition conducts regional monitoring and reporting and assists members in compliance with regulations. The Coalition is not a regulatory agency. Enforcement of the ILRP is handled by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
California Ag Today staff interviewed Ryan Jacobsen, CEO and executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau moments after the Bureau of Reclamation announced only 5 percent of contracted water would be allocated to Federal surface water users south of the Sacramento Delta during this El Niño year.
California Ag Today: Forget how you feel about the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial 5 percent allocation for Federal water users. How many times can we say, “Frustrated?”
Jacobsen: Absolutely just despicable—the announcement we heard earlier today. The frustration is that we’ve continually been told over the last couple of years with zero percent water allocations that it’s been Mother Nature.
Even though it’s not necessarily the big bang year we were hoping for in northern California, Mother Nature provided. We’ve seen the reservoirs overflowing. We’ve seen the reservoirs flood-releasing, and here we are with a five percent allocation. We saw outflows in the delta this winter that exceeded the 300,000 acre/feet a day, and yet we weren’t doing anything to capture it. So, it’s just frustration, frustration, frustration that here we are—more of the same—and what does this mean long-term for California agriculture? We can’t be viable without a surface water supply, and when Mother Nature provides, unfortunately the federal government’s not trying to collect it.
California Ag Today: What is going on? Why are they doing this? Do you have any theories?
Jacobsen: Obviously, it has so much to do with the environmental side and the belief that the federal government is doing all they can to protect these species up there. We have seen that it’s doing no good; the fish species are seeing no recovery; it’s actually going in the opposite direction. It is plain mismanagement. The unfortunate part is sound science isn’t even going into this right now; it is purely the emotional side of whoever decides to pull the trigger on the federal side. And here we are on the resulting end, losing millions and millions of dollars in our economy, idling more farmland—the most productive farmland in the country—in the world—and losing the jobs that are associated with it.
California Ag Today: You speak brilliantly on this whole situation. Way more water has flowed out to the ocean than needed for the protection of any of the species or the environment, so who are they listening to?
Jacobsen: Right now, this is simply the administration’s decision. Reclamation falls under the federal side of things, so obviously, ultimately, it lays on the President’s desk. If we talk about resolution: by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, we could see a resolution to this whole issue. If Congress would get their act together and pass some kind of bill, get it on the President’s desk and get it signed, we could see some resolution.
Unfortunately, here we are, April 1: a good portion of the precipitation season is now behind us, the high flows through the delta are pretty much over. We still have healthy reservoirs up North, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean anything for us down here because we can’t convey it through the Delta to get here. That lack of and the lack of ability on the federal side to make the decisions that would allow us to pump that water makes this just another year of doom and gloom. Again, how much more of this can we take? I think the long-term outlook for those farmers with permanent crops who have tried to scrape by, has to be, “Is this even viable for us to continue to do this anymore?” ‘Because Mother Nature provided, and yet we don’t see the water.
California Ag Today: Very bleak. Ninety-five percent of normal snowfall, too.
Jacobsen: The percentages in northern California, while good, weren’t the El Niño banner year we were expecting. The season looked bright, like it was going to be good. Yet, the fact of the matter is that during the months of January, February and March, when these just incredible numbers of high water flows were going through the Delta, pumps were pumping in single digits. And that’s not even close, or anywhere near where they should have been.
I think the misconception is when we talk about the water that is taken from the Delta, it’s such a small percentage, particularly during those high-flow times; it would have meant no difference to water species. It’s just a frustration that we continue to be bombarded by these environmental restrictions that are having no good effect on the long-term viability of these species they are trying to protect.
California Ag Today: What is the economic impact of these water cutbacks on the Central Valley?
Jacobsen: Well, when you look at the five percent allocation, we are ground zero. Fresno County, right in the heartland of the Central Valley, is ground zero. We are going to see probably in excess of 200,000-250,000 acres of land continue to be fallowed and the loss of the tens of thousands of jobs associated with that, and millions, tens of millions of dollars. It’s obviously a very dire situation when it comes to long-term viability here in the Valley.
California Ag Today: Because they are going to hear a lot of outrage from us, do you think the Bureau of Reclamation would go to a 20 percent water allocation? Farmers must be thinking, “We got to get the seeds ordered today for the crops.” Is there any hope for an increase in water, or do you think farmers just can’t bank on it?
Jacobsen: It’s already too late. For this season, it’s already too late. It is April 1 already, and, unfortunately, this is not a joke. This decision is about one month-and-a-half late. I think the Bureau of Reclamation was hoping the numbers would improve magically. They didn’t.
The five percent allocation, while said not to be our final allocation, is likely to be close. It won’t go up to 20; it won’t go up to 15. Maybe if we pray enough, it may go up to ten, but that would be on the high side. Right now, it looks very realistic that five percent is where we end up, where we are going to stand for the year.
California Ag Today: Okay, I know growers who have planted tomatoes in Fresno County, thinking, “Hey, we gotta get water.” They’re not getting it.
Jacobsen: They’re not getting it, no. And lack of surface water supply continues to make a huge dent in our groundwater supply, so this just can’t continue the way it is going. Plus, upcoming implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), combined with the lack of federal surface supplies, will absolutely hammer farms here in the Valley.
DROUGHT COSTS CALIFORNIA AGRICULTURE $1.84B AND 10,100 JOBS IN 2015
The drought is tightening its grip on California agriculture, squeezing about 30 percent more workers and cropland out of production than in 2014, according to the latest drought impact report by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.
In 2015, the drought costs to the state’s agricultural economy will reach about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs, the report estimated, with the Central Valley hardest hit.
The analysis also forecasts how the industry will fare if the drought persists through 2017.
‘NOT A FREE LUNCH’
Currently, the industry overall remains robust. The agricultural economy continues to grow in this fourth year of severe drought, thanks mostly to the state’s vast but declining reserves of groundwater, which will offset about 70 percent of the surface water shortage this year, the researchers said.
California is the world’s richest food-producing region. Continued strong global demand and prices for many of its fruits, nuts and vegetables has helped sustain the farm economy along with intrastate water transfers and shifts in growing locations.
“We’re getting by remarkably well this year — much better than many had predicted — but it’s not a free lunch,” said lead author Richard Howitt, a UC Davis professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics.
The heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs as farmers pump deeper and drill more wells. Some of the heavy pumping is in basins already in severe overdraft — where groundwater use greatly exceeds replenishment of aquifers — inviting further land subsidence, water quality problems and diminishing reserves needed for future droughts.
Further, several small rural communities continue to suffer from high unemployment and drying up of domestic wells because of the drought, particularly in the Tulare Basin.
“If a drought of this intensity persists beyond 2015, California’s agricultural production and employment will continue to erode,” said co-author Josue Medellin-Azuara, a water economist with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.
The UC Davis team used computer models and the latest estimates of surface water availability from state and federal water projects and local water districts. They forecast several drought-related impacts in the state’s major agricultural regions for the current growing season, including:
The direct costs of drought to agriculture will be $1.84 billion for 2015. The total impact to all economic sectors is an estimated $2.74 billion, compared with $2.2 billion in 2014. The state’s farmers and ranchers currently receive more than $46 billion annually in gross revenues, a small fraction of California’s $1.9 trillion-a-year economy.
The loss of about 10,100 seasonal jobs directly related to farm production, compared with the researchers’ 2014 drought estimate of 7,500 jobs. When considering the spillover effects of the farm losses on all other economic sectors, the employment impact of the 2015 drought more than doubles to 21,000 lost jobs.
Surface water shortages will reach nearly 8.7 million acre-feet, which will be offset mostly by increased groundwater pumping of 6 million acre-feet.
Net water shortages of 2.7 million acre-feet will cause roughly 542,000 acres to be idled — 114,000 more acres than the researchers’ 2014 drought estimate. Most idled land is in the Tulare Basin.
The effects of continued drought through 2017 (assuming continued 2014 water supplies) will likely be 6 percent worse than in 2015, with the net water shortage increasing to 2.9 million acre-feet a year. Gradual decline in groundwater pumping capacity and water elevations will add to the incremental costs of a prolonged drought.
GROUNDWATER LAWS COULD HELP
The scientists noted that new state groundwater laws requiring local agencies to attain sustainable yields could eventually reverse the depletion of underground reserves.
“The transition will cause some increased fallowing of cropland or longer crop rotations but will help preserve California’s ability to support more profitable permanent and vegetable crops during drought,” said co-author Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.
The report was primarily funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Other authors on the report include Daniel Sumner, a UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics and director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, and Duncan MacEwan of the ERA Economics consulting firm in Davis.
Source: Janny Choy and Geoff McGhee; Water in the West
California’s groundwater is back in the spotlight. Largely invisible, lightly regulated and used by 85% of California’s population and much of the state’s $45 billion agriculture industry, groundwater is a crucial reserve that helps stave off catastrophe during drought periods like we’ve experienced over the past three years.
Unheralded, Underegulated and Overused, California’s Groundwater Is in Crisis
But after more than a century of unregulated use, California’s groundwater is in crisis – and with it the state’s hydrologic safety net. This carries profound economic, environmental, and infrastructure implications. How did it come to this, and what do we do now?
6 Million Californians Rely on Groundwater
Over 6 million Californians rely solely or primarily on groundwater for their water supply. Many of them reside in towns and cities in the Central Valley and along the Central California coast, where communities generally have limited local surface water options or don’t have the ability to finance other water supply sources.
For Others, Groundwater Complements the Surface Water Supply
Generally, though, groundwater is used alongside surface water to meet the state’s needs, which range from urban and industrial uses to irrigating roughly half the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States.
In normal and wet years, groundwater provides 30 to 40% of the water supply. It supplements surface water that is collected from snowmelt and rainfall then is stored and conveyed by a vast system of state and federal dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts.
During droughts, surface water availability can be sharply reduced, leaving water users to pump water from local wells. At times like these, groundwater can surge closer to 60% of water used statewide, and even higher in agricultural areas like the Central Valley.
When Rain and Snow Don’t Fall, Groundwater Prevents Disaster
This year, the third consecutive year of an extreme and extensive drought, state officials have warned that little or no surface water will be made available to most consumers. In turn, water providers are advising large users to pump their own groundwater.
As bad as this drought is, it is not uncommon. Droughts are a part of life in California, as anyone who has lived here long enough knows. But what most may not know is that groundwater has been getting us through droughts, including the last big one in the 1970s, and it is getting us through the one today.
In fact, 5 million acre feet of additional groundwater will be pumped in the Central Valley alone to make up for the 6.5 million acre feet in surface water reductions for agriculture in 2014. Even so, the economic loss for the Central Valley from this drought is expected to be $1.7 billion.
By Overusing Groundwater Today, We Are Living Off Our ‘Savings’
Writers often turn to financial metaphors to explain the importance of groundwater. As Tom Philpott of Mother Jones magazine wrote recently, “To live off surface water is to live off your paycheck … To rely on groundwater, though, is to live off of savings.”
Another metaphor frequently applied to groundwater is that of mining. In fact, “groundwater mining” is exactly what experts call nonrenewable groundwater use, where farmers “mine” water to grow almonds, alfalfa or grapes. You could even say they are “mining” those commodities themselves.
Recommendations for Groundwater Reform
Through numerous hearings, workshops, and consultations with experts and interest groups, recommendations by groups such as the California Water Foundation are coalescing around the concept of local groundwater management with the state serving as a backstop authority if local action has not occurred or is insufficient.
Next steps might include creating and empowering local groundwater management entities; requiring groundwater management plans; and defining the state’s role for assistance, oversight, enforcement and funding. Read more in the California Water Foundation’s report with recommendations for sustainable groundwater management.
Shawn Stevenson is the Vice President of Harlan Ranch, a third-generation family-owned and operated farm located in Fresno County. He says this is the toughest time the ranch has experienced in its history.
Stevenson spoke as a bulldozer uprooted productive trees last week. “Once we finished pushing these trees, we’re going to be out about 400 acres of the 1200 acres that’s pushed. In addition, we have another 140 acres we’re just giving enough water to barely keep alive,” said Stevenson. “The balance of our crops are receiving 66 percent of their normal water. So no matter what kind of crop that is out here on Harlan Ranch this year, it’s a very tough year as far as water goes,” he added.
Stevenson explained that the lack of water isn’t just about crops, but the people involved as well.
“There’s not enough water. It impacts the trees. It impacts our employees. Earlier this year I had my first layoffs I ever done because of lack of work, and that’s because we are pushing out so many trees. About 30 percent of our employees were let go. That was the probably the most devastating time that I’ve faced here,” said Stevenson.
He added that this reaches far more than just his farm, that the drought permeates all aspects of the industry, not just growers.
Stevenson predicted that this coming season, he’ll produce and deliver to the packing house about 25 percent of the volume of citrus produced in the past year. “That impacts not only our employees but the packers at the packing house, the people who sell the fruit, and the people we buy pesticides and fertilizers from,” Stevenson added.
With drought reaching the majority of the state, with 58 percent of California at the highest drought-level, according to a U.S. Drought Monitorreport, some farmers are thinking about the future of the industry in California.
“Now, I understand not all of Fresno and not all of California looks this bad, but imagine that we’re like the “canary in the coal mine”. This is what the future of California looks like. This kind of devastation that you see here is what our future looks like. If we continue to have no or little surface water deliveries, and as the groundwater situation continues to deteriorate. Without more surface water, without more water supplies, this is the future of the Central Valley,” said Stevenson.
“Several months ago, I looked back at what the worst case scenario would be and started making plans for that worst case scenario. And, the worst case scenario is about right on track. I don’t think a lot of people realize that is like a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, or a wildfire or an earthquake, it’s just going to take a lot longer time to happen. It’s going to happen slowly—the devastation to our economy, to peoples’ lives, to whole communities,” he said.
Stevenson also mentioned communities such as Mendota and Orange Cove, which rely completely on the agriculture industry for employment, and added, “without work, this can leave entire cities in dire situations.”
“Our water infrastructure has been far out-stripped by the people in this state, so it’s time we update it and figure out how to get more water to more people in the state and try to preserve agriculture for our state, our country, and our world,” Stevenson said.
For the first time in history, Fresno County has two $1 billion crops, and for the first time in 11 years, grapes are not the #1 crop. Now almonds are the top crop produced in Fresno County with a value of $1.1 billion, with grapes coming in second at $1.03 billion. However, despite these highlights, Fresno County crop value in 2013 was $6.436 billion in gross production—a decrease of 2.28 percent of 2012.
As it stands now, Fresno County loses it’s #1 position as top agricultural county in the nation, dropping behind Tulare County, which recently announced a $7.8 billion 2013 crop year. It could get worse when Kern County releases their report in August.
“Much of the decrease can be attributed to the shortage of water,” said Les Wright, Fresno County Ag Commissioner. “The impacts of drought began to show on our 2012 crop report with decrease of 2.29 percent from 2011. Producers are feeling the affects of the water shortage more in 2014 than in the previous two yeas.”
Water shortages in Fresno County with a large part of the West Side dependent on both state and federal surface water deliveries have meant the annual crop report’s gross value of production has dropped three years in a row.
Details of the 2013 report include an increase of fresh vegetable production in 2013 by 3.8 percent in value led by garlic and fresh market tomatoes, while livestock and poultry decreased in value by more than 16 percent.
Field crops, representing barley, wheat, corn silage, cotton an alfalfa declined nearly 42 percent, while fruit and nut crops increased more than 8 percent.
Wright noted that Fresno County growers exported nearly 26,000 shipments to 99 different countries. “This tells us that we are still feeding the world,” said Wright.
“Once we get water back, we are going to see our ag economy rebound,” said Wright. “Just give the farmers water and they will do the rest.”
Merced Irrigation District officials say growers in the district will receive additional surface water, after action taken Tuesday by MID’s board of directors.
The increased water supply is the direct result of regulatory relief MID received from the state after months of planning a multibenefit water management action for the Merced River, according to a press release from Mike Jensen, MID spokesman.
MID growers were most recently expecting 0.9 acre-feet of surface water supply this growing season. However, MID officials noted increased water supply would be available, and recommended increasing the allocation to 1.1 acre-feet of water per acre.
Class II growers will receive 0.55 acre-feet after Tuesday’s MID board action. Deliveries are expected to continue until Sept. 7, according to Jensen.
“This year still remains among the most challenging we have ever seen,” MID General Manager John Sweigard said in the release. “Nevertheless, we are extremely pleased there was some surface water supply relief for our growers.”
Additionally, the board voted to decrease the in-season agricultural water rate for growers from $100.67 per acre-foot to $75 per acre-foot. The new rate is retroactive and applicable to all surface-water use for the 2014 irrigation season.
The reduction in the 2014 water rates comes after MID growers recently approved a rate increase to $100 per acre-foot, ensuring the financial health of MID during the drought crisis. Since that time, MID implemented the multibenefit water management action for the Merced River after months of planning and receiving final approvals from the state.
It involved obtaining 25,000 additional acre-feet of water from Lake McClure for growers, and providing 5,000 acre-feet of water for a critical-year spring fish-flow in the Merced River. The spring fish-flow water was transferred to other water users after it served its environmental purpose in the river system. MID received $5 million in revenue to help the district recover lost revenue associated with the drought.
In addition to the surface water supply from Lake McClure, MID is again implementing its Supplemental Water Supply Pool Program. Growers have already elected to receive additional water that is made available from conjunctive groundwater pumping. The district expects to provide approximately 28,000 acre-feet of water through the program this year, the release said.
MID began deliveries April 21.
Facing a third dry year with unprecedented drought conditions, the board of directors earlier this year enacted penalties for any water theft this season. For a first offense, a grower will be fined $1,000 and be charged $500 for each acre-foot used. For a second offense, the grower would receive the same fines and penalties while losing access to MID water this year.