During our three part series on the California Water Crisis we have explored California’s water infrastructure history, sources, storage and some of the problems we are facing in the Central Valley. In our third installment we explore some of the solutions, actions, and steps we are taking to mitigate the effects of drought and how our farmers are preparing for the upcoming summer season.
As explained in our previous water problem issue, current regulations & legislations have drastically reduced the amount of water sent to the Central Valley. Over 3.8 million-acre feet of water from the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project has been re-prioritized away from cities & farms for environmental projects and environmental regulatory requirements. Since 1992, farmers have been receiving on average 35% of the water that they were originally allocated. This year our farmers have been told to expect 0% of the water originally allocate to them from the projects. It is not just our farmers that are feeling the negative effects of the current water allocation. Famers in rural areas and smaller communities all over the state are in direct competition with the urban population that has an overwhelming advantage when it comes to votes.
Agriculture is a $44.7 billion dollar industry in California, providing the world with over 400 different commodities throughout the year. The current water allocation regulations, environmental regulation requirements order for California, especially the Central Valley, need to be reexamined to provide flexibility in environmental regulations. Protecting our natural ecosystem is extremely important but there should be some flexibility in the regulation that’s required for the environment, especially when are in such a state of drought.
In 2009, California adopted the California Water Action Plan through the passage of the Senate Bill 7×7. Once of the plan’s short-term goals is to reduce urban per capita water usage by at least 10% before December 31, 2015. The plans long-terms goal will require California to reduce per capita water usage by 20% before December 31, 2020. To achieve these short and long-term goals, the Water Conservation Act promotes expanding the development of sustainable water supplies, agricultural water management plans, and efficient water management practices for agricultural water suppliers.Cities all over California are making water conservation a priority for community members and visitors. A great example of this is in a small town called Cambria on the Central Coast. Cambrians are using only recycled water for their gardens, restaurants will only serve water if requested, and public restrooms have been replaced with port-a-potties.
Investments in Infrastructure
California’s water infrastructure is working hard to provide our communities and farms with precious water. With the last major water project being completed in the 1970’s, the infrastructure is beginning to show its age. Investments in our statewide water system need to match the current state of California’s agricultural demands and growing population.
|Water Infrastructure||Constructed||CA Population at Construction|
|Central Valley Project||1930’s||5.7 million|
|State Water Project||1960’s||15.7 million|
|All American Canal||1930’s||5.7 million|
|Colorado River Aqueduct||1941||6.9 million|
|Los Angeles Aqueduct||1913||2.4 million|
|Mokelumne Aqueduct||1929||5.7 million|
|San Francisco Hetch Hetchy Project||1923||3.4 million|
At the time of the last official consensus in 2010, California’s population was approximately 37.3 million people and could easily exceed 40 million by the 2020 consensus. Our water infrastructure (pipe systems and other hardware) desperately needs to be updated in order to meet the ever-growing demand.
The 2014 Water Bond, if passed in November 2014, could provide an $11.4 billion dollar general obligation bond to fund programs and projects to address California’s water supply issues. The bond would help to fund large-scale investments in infrastructure (water storage capacity, recycling facilities, levee improvements, flood control facilities, and water treatment plants) to help improve water supply reliability in dry times and help to store a greater amount of water when it is available. The bond will also provide funding for ecosystem restoration and habitat improvements.
Forest Fire Preparation & Prevention
Hot temperatures and dry conditions also increase the likelihood of forest fires here in the California. CAL FIRE is preparing for this summer by hiring hundreds of additional seasonal firefighters to be station all throughout the state. By taking steps to prevent wildfires and being prepared to respond quickly, our firefighters will be able to conserve our already scarce water resources. Just like smoky the bear told you, only you can prevent forest fires! For more information on how you can prevent & prepare to wild fires, visit ReadyForWildfire.org.
Summeripe Farmers: Preparing for Summer 2014
Our farmers have generation of experience and knowledge behind them. This knowledge and experience has given them the ability to adapt to tough situations and make the most of out of a limited supply of resources. Adapting to a limited water supply means figuring out how to efficiently use and conserve water. Jeff Bortolussi, a Summeripe farmer, said “Water conservation is foremost in our minds. Water used to not be a thought for us, but now it’s a very serious situation”.
Our farmers are taking advantage of technology to help them conserve water and use what water they do have as efficiently as possible. They are using instruments like Irrometers Tensiometers to figure out what will be the most effective use of water. Irrometers Tensiometers directly measure the amount of water in any given amount of soil and the physical force that is actually holding water in the soil.
The situation that California is in is terrible without question but we are actually pretty lucky here in the Reedley area. We have a few important factors that are working for us, not against us. We are allowed to drill new wells to reach water tables in the ground. Some farmers on the West side of the Central Valley are not allowed to drill for new wells. We are also extremely fortunate here on the East side that the Kings River feeds our water tables with good quality water. Our water tables are also relatively shallow, meaning that it is a not as expensive for our farmers to drill wells and pump the water out. Good quality water at shallow levels is great because ground water is currently the only source of water for our farmers.
Our landscape is also another positive factor for our farmers. The flat landscape allows our farmers to choose the most efficient irrigation method. They will often choose to use a drip irrigation system or use a technique called “flood” irrigation. Flood irrigation not only provides the trees with water it also provides an opportunity for the water tables to be replenished with the excess water the trees did not need. Drip irrigation uses drip lines to provide their trees with the exact amount of water needed. Drip is great for conservation because the trees get exactly what they need, but you can never use surface water (which takes from the water table) and it doesn’t replenish it like flood does.
What can you do?
There are many ways you can help California conserve water, click on the following links for ideas:
Something as simple as water, a resource that we all consume has become one of the most complex issues facing the state of California. Water sustains life; for people, animals, plants, food, and even our businesses. What makes water so complex is that it plays a crucial part in the way we live, especially during the dry summers here in the Central Valley. We may not realize it, but everything from the clothes on our backs, to the price of electricity that runs our Air Conditioners in the summer heat, depends on our access to water. California is facing challenges because we are uncertain of how long our valuable water resources will sustain the demand and usage of the water that we all need. California has faced water issues before and we know that these problems are solvable. In order to solve the issues, we must first take a look and understand the problem in front of us.
A “Drought” is a weather related phenomena that can be tricky to define. A drought does not have a set of easily identifiable and straightforward terms or features like wind speed for hurricanes and tornadoes. While drought is defined as a “prolonged period of abnormally low precipitation; a shortage of water resulting from this” The features and effects of a Drought vary throughout the world. For example, what is considered a drought in Bali (6 days without rain) would not be considered a drought in Libya (annual rainfall is less than 7 inches). Over the last three years, the state of California, and the Central Valley have fallen short on rainfall and snowpack. Our average annual rainfall for the Reedley area is 11.50 inches. The total rainfall for last November through March (our wettest time of the year) was only 6.31 inches. This puts is at 3 inches short of the average during those months. As of last week, the final snow survey revealed that we had 18% of average for May 1st. This snow runoff provides a third of the water for farmland and cities. On top of an extremely dry winter, 47.5% of all water caught in our reservoirs is sent through rivers and streams to the ocean to meet state and federal environmental requirements.
Some may blame climate change, some global warming, while others claim our dry spell is due to the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” (a massive zone of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast that acts like a brick wall, blocking Pacific winter storms from hitting California then deflecting the storms to Alaska and British Columbia). But the truth is, we don’t know the exact reason why California has experienced such dry winters. Just like the exact cause of our water shortage, we cannot accurately predict what next year will bring us. We do know that something has to be done to prepare for dry spells. The storage we have now was designed to prepare for these dry spells, and carry California’s cities and farms through times of drought.
Storage & Infrastructure
The storage facilities that we have in California are some of the best in the world. We have the infrastructure, designed over 100 years ago, to send water from Northern California all the way to Los Angeles. Two-thirds of California’s rainfall happens in the north, while two-thirds of the population and economy is in the south. We already have large reservoirs for most of the streams and rivers flowing in California. Building more of these reservoirs can contribute to solving the water shortage that we are facing but they do not solve the entire issue. The current reservoirs double as water storage, as well as flood protection for the areas surrounding them. That said they are capable of storing more water then the amount of runoff in the spring and summer.
California has one of the most impressive and intricate systems of water delivery from its reservoirs. However, part of the problem is that the infrastructure for delivering this water is quite old, and it was designed for a much smaller population. The Central Valley Project (CVP), Federally funded in 1930, is the worlds largest water storage and transport system in the world. The State Water Project (SWP) constructed some of our major reservoirs in the 1950’s and 60’s. These two Projects are both intricately connected to the Delta located near Sacramento. The Delta is the heart of our water system. All water either to the ocean, or throughout the state passes through this area. Since the completion of these two large water projects, little has been done to keep up with the demand on our water supply from California’s growing population and agricultural industry.
The amount of water that has been sent to the Central Valley has been cut drastically since 1992. From 1992-2009 there was a shift in priority for the use of this water. Over 3.8 million-acre feet of water from the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project has been re-prioritized away from cities & farms for environmental projects and environmental regulatory requirements. These water reductions resulted in farmers getting on average 35% of the water originally allocated to them. At the same time, they are expected to pay as if they were getting 100% of what’s allocated to them, but there is no guarantee that they will get water at all. The CVP was contracted to get 1.8 million-acre feet of water to farmers in this area. Since the steady decline in water deliveries, the Central Valley only got 630,000 acre feet in 2009.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has played a role in the declination of water deliveries. The Delta Smelt and the juvenile Salmon population in the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta became part of the decision to reduce water deliveries to farmers. As part of the ESA researchers caught 300 Delta Smelt near the pumps that deliver our water. In 2013 The CVP was reduced to 20% of its original allocation, and the SWP was reduced to 35%. In 2014 farmers are being told to expect 0% allocation of water from these projects. These regulatory requirements are unfortunately failing California’s environment and handcuffing California’s water systems – preventing our reservoirs from protecting from flood and providing much needed relief during drought.
California farmers are some of the best in the world. Even though there are many challenges facing them, there has been much good that has come out of this extreme situation. New technology has been used to help them need less water, have more impact with less water, and reduce waste. For farmers to survive generation after generation, they must adapt, take care of their resources, and continue to improve on their practices. There are none better at caring for the land and developing technology than our group of Summeripe growers. We have seen them use Irrometers to measure the moisture in the ground, use drip irrigation, and have an overall sense of how important it is to take care of what they have. Luckily for us in the Reedley area, we have a good water table below us to get us through a time where we don’t get surface water. We are praying for a wet winter, and for policies that will benefit the urban populations as well as the farmers who love producing the best food in the world.
There are many factors that have made and continue to allow California, especially the Central Valley, to be one of the most important and productive agricultural regions in the entire world. Some of the factors include the “Mediterranean” style climate, contrasting geologic features, fertile soil, dedicated and resilient farmers, and of course an extensive network of water storage and delivery systems.
Sources of Water
Although 80-85% of our water is used for agricultural purposes, the valley’s modern day water infrastructure was not born out of agricultural needs, but from the discovery of gold. During the gold rush, miners created hundred of miles of canals to transport the water needed for hydraulic mining and gold-washing operations. When the time of the gold rush came to a close, Californians set their sights (and water canals) to the flourishing agriculture industry. Our water supply in the Central Valley comes from two main sources:
1. Surface Water is water that gathers on the ground, such as rivers, streams, reservoirs, and lakes. With the central valley’s unpredictable and varying annual rainfall and precipitation, reservoirs are a critical component in providing reliable water supplies to communities and farms.
2. Ground Water is water that has absorbed into the ground. During the rainy months (October to late March) the rainwater that is absorbed into the ground will typically make its way into an underground water table otherwise known as an aquifer.
Surface Water Storage & Delivery
Surface water is an incredibly important resource for our farmers and communities alike. Our growers take advantage of the Central Valley’s surface water resources with lakes, man-made reservoirs, rivers, and canals.
Pine Flat Dam & Reservoir
The most important reservoir for us in and around Reedley is the Pine Flat Reservoir. Pine Flat is a man made reservoir and gravity dam. While Pine Flat’s primary purpose is to control flooding it is also a critical irrigation resource for central valley farmers. In addition to Pine Flat being an average of 15-20 miles away from our growers the reservoir is massive at 30 miles long with surface area of 6000 square acres, the maximum capacity of the reservoir can hold up to 1,000,000 acre feet of water. As of 4/27/2014, Pine Flat Lake was at 29% capacity, significantly lower than the historical average of 43%. See current conditions here.
The water collected in the reservoir is from the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The melted snowpack is stored as a precious resource until it is ready to be utilized during our dry summers. Snowpack is extremely important to our water storage as it is the main source of water that feeds into reservoirs such as Pine Flat, any lack of snowpack leads to a lack of surface water. Coupled with the dismal rainfall this winter, the current snowpack only contains 32% of the average water content for this time of year. Given the conditions, the 2014 snowpack could be the fifth lowest on record since the state snow survey began in 1930.
Pine Flat feeds the stored water into the Kings River which runs 125 miles through Fresno Country and into the Tulare Lake bed. Our growers use an intricate system of canals, weirs, and even underground ditches to divert and transport the water in order to irrigate their fields. Canals are used to transport water from the river to the farmed acreage that has access (i.e. proper underground pipes to direct water flow) to this water. Weirs are small dams that are used to raise the water level and therefore allow our farmers to alter the flow of the water and diverting it to where it is needed. Underground ditches may be invisible to the naked eye but this extensive network of underground ditches is right underneath our feet and allows for the water to flow efficiently to the fields.
Ground Water Storage & Delivery
Our farmers take advantage of the water that has accumulated into the aquifers by pumping it out of the ground to be used to irrigate land or to be purified into the drinking water. Surface water satisfied most irrigation needs until the late 19th century but as the agriculture industry grew in the central valley so did the demand for water.
The invention of the deep-well turbine pump in the 1930’s allowed withdrawals from much greater depths and lead to the use of wells to supplement the less than dependable surface-water supplies. Wells also supply water to areas where surface water diversion canals and ditches have not and cannot be constructed. As mentioned in the previous Summeripe Focus, wells are becoming increasingly important for our farmers during these dry times. Ten years ago a specific well in our orchard was able to pump water from a depth of just 40 feet. Today, that same well settles at 63 feet.
Ground Water vs. Surface Water
Surface water and ground water are both incredibly important sources of water for our farmers and for our communities. California might not be the agriculture superpower that it is without the ability to store rainfall and snow-pack during the winter months and then transporting the water to our fields during the dry months. Our water infrastructure is especially crucial to us during times of drought. Due to the lack of stored water (in Pine Flat Reservoir) there is a much higher need and cost to utilizing our water infrastructure and pumping the water that our fruit needs.
|Estimated Cost of Ground Water||Estimated Cost of Surface Water|
|Electricity Expense: $800-$900/month for 1 well pump? Example: An 250 acre Summeripe field can have up to 9 well pumps||Electricity Expense: $20/month per acre foot, price may vary due to water district|
|Irrigation Labor Expense? $12/hour, 50 hours/week||Irrigation Labor Expense? $12/hour, 50 hours/week|
|Possible Water Testing & Treatment Expense|
*Projected average costs based on historical data from a specific Summeripe grower, does not represent the conditions in the entire Central Valley