Producers reduce their harvests due to lack of water

Image of San Luis Reservoir via Google Earth

published on February 23, 2022 – 14:36
Written by Edward Smith

Another water allocation from zero to near zero means even fewer options for Central Valley growers as plans to comply with new state regulations unfold.

Despite significant rainfall in October and December, the Bureau of Reclamation on Wednesday announced a 0% surface water allowance for users in the southern delta drawing from the Central Valley Project (CVP), which includes the Westlands Water District. . For producers on the east side of the Central Valley who obtain their water from the Friant-Kern canal, they received a 15% allocation.

“We started the 2022 hydrological year with low CVP reservoir storage and a weather boost, starting with a record day of precipitation in Sacramento in October and snowy December storms through very dry January and February, which are poised to be the driest on record,” Bureau regional director Ernest Conant said in a new statement. “Additionally, December storms have been disproportionately in headwaters this year — heavy in the American River Basin and unfortunately light in the upper Sacramento River Basin, which feeds Shasta Reservoir, the cornerstone of the CVP.”

A graph shows crop set-aside activity in the Westlands Water District over the years.

The Central Valley Project is a federally-built transportation system that brings water from the Shasta Reservoir south to Bakersfield and the Tehachapi Mountains.

Ryan Ferguson, who operates Ferguson Farming near Huron, said the announcement was quite disappointing, especially after last year’s wet December and October.

“At the end of December, I was optimistic we would be able to fill a lot of tanks,” Ferguson said.

He will fallow almost 40% of the 3,000 acres he cultivates, eliminating all his cotton and almost all his tomatoes.

This graph shows the reduction in groundwater pumping limits for the Westlands under new state regulations.

And he’s not the only grower to eliminate row crops. Tomatoes, garlic and onions all suffer, Ferguson said. And the acreage sown to lettuce in the spring and fall has dropped significantly, which will affect food prices, he said.

Growers are even removing walnut orchards to balance their water usage. A 15-year-old orchard can be abandoned when the typical lifespan is 25 years.

He has $1 million of extra water carried over from last year that he will use to irrigate his orchards.

Growers don’t like watering almond trees with a ground supply because the trees don’t respond well to salinity, but Ferguson said there’s no getting around that this year.

Almond prices can’t handle water costs rising much more. In 2021, the price of water was around $3,000 per acre-foot.

Growers are still struggling to access overseas markets due to shipping disruptions, which could impact prices, as domestic markets alone cannot support the supply grown in the region.

In previous years, Westlands producers have turned to the four water districts of the San Joaquin River Exchange contractors to sell excess water.

But they received a “critical year” designation. While smaller levels of transfers may occur, in critical years those transfers become very limited, said Cannon Michael, producer and San Luis Canal Company board member.

This is the first year that Westlands Water District has implemented a district-wide pumping cap of 1.3 acre-feet of water per acre as part of the government-mandated groundwater sustainability plan. State.

Ferguson said this year’s cap is an overall cap. Groundwater use of 1.3 acre-feet spans the entire district, meaning neighbors can use more or less as long as there is a balance.

Next year is the first year the cap applies to each individual irrigator.

Over the next eight years, groundwater pumping will be reduced to 0.6 acre-feet of water.

In the eastern Central Valley, contractors from the Friant Water Authority have received a 15% or 120,000 acre-feet allocation for water users with a Class I contract. Friant Water officials estimate that up to to 240,000 acre feet could be made available depending on current snowpack levels and reservoir conditions at Millerton Lake.

This is the fourth year in the past decade that users in the southern delta, such as the Westlands Water District, have received a 0% allocation for surface water, making it more difficult to replenish aquifers. And as state water laws become more and more demanding, it becomes more and more difficult to meet the requirement to only draw the amount of water that is introduced into it.

“Westlands producers are going to make tough decisions,” Ferguson said.

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