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Wasted Water

1,820 acre feet PER DAY are now flowing down the San Joaquin River in an ill-conceived effort to save the salmon.

Apr 24, 2013

There isn't a day goes by that farmers don't see water being wasted for lofty environmental goals that are doomed to failure. Over 800-thousand acre feet of water have flowed to the Pacific instead of to farms because of the Delta Smelt. 1,820 acre feet PER DAY are now flowing down the San Joaquin River in an ill-conceived effort to save the salmon. Sure, the noble goal of saving the salmon sounds great, but when the river's not ready and the water is being used only for the amusement of environmentalists, it's a just bunch of worthless paperwork. The only salmon in the river had to be brought in by truck. According to the L.A. Times one of the salmon "was one of 104 fall-run chinook trapped over a period of weeks late last year and hauled in tank trucks down California 99 — around dry riverbed not yet restored — for release in the upper river at Camp Pashayan on the outskirts of Fresno." Why not wait until the river is ready for the salmon and let farmers use the water until then? No go with the enviros. They won the river restoration battle and they're not going to let a little thing like common sense stop them.

No one really disputes that the river is not ready. Again, from the Times, "but because water is still not flowing down the river's longest dry stretch, the hatching salmon have nowhere to go. The juveniles will hang out in the upper river until they become a meal for other fish." The system is not ready," said Cannon Michael, vice president of an agricultural company that farms 11,000 acres near the river. "You get some photo ops by trapping fish." So all this water is wasted for photo ops? It's a crime.

Estimates range from $1-2-billion to restore the river, money that isn't there. It would make a lot more sense to get the money, restore the river in a way that could work, and in the meantime let farmers have the water. It's a joke, but it's not funny.


Tulare County farmers' water cut even more

Farm manager: 'Everyone's concerned a little bit'

David Castellon

The tough water year Gamdur Gill was expecting is getting worse.

Gill, who grows almonds and grapes on his farms south of Earlimart, heard the news last week that spring and summer water allotments for him and other farmers who get their water from the Friant-Kern Canal were being cut — again.

Back in February, the U.S Bureau of Reclamation announced that Friant-Kern customers would get water equal to to just 40 percent of their normal allotments for the year because of the Valley’s unusually dry winter and a spring that also is starting out dry.

Earlier this month, the bureau cut that allotment to 35 percent, and last week — after reviewing hand measurements showing critically low snowpack levels in the Sierra — the water allotment was cut again to about 33 percent of normal.

“That’s going to affect us a lot, because water is the main thing for the crops. Water is more important than anything. If we have good water, we have a good crop,” Gill said.

“We lost 40,000 acre-feet of water in this last declaration,” said Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Authority, which distributes water from the Millerton Lake reservoir through the Madera and Friant-Kern canals.

An acre-foot of water is enough to cover an acre one foot deep.

To make matters worse, if the current dry spring weather continues much longer into the season, the Friant-Kern water allotments could be reduced more in the coming weeks, Jacobsma said.

Average April rainfall in Visalia is .99 inches for the month, and so far no rain has fallen on the city. The forecast for the rest of the month and May is for less-than-normal rainfall and hotter-than-normal weather, said Jeff Barlow, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford.

While the June and July forecast calls for near-normal rainfall, he noted that those normally are the driest months of the year.

Part of the Friant-Kern canal flows through the eastern end of Tulare County, supplying surface water to numerous farms there, along with part of Lindsay’s drinking water.

Some of those farmers have wells they’ll likely have to use more than they anticipated before the reduced allotment was announced. But many don’t have wells, particularly those in the lower foothill areas, water experts say.

Water reductions likely will hit hardest growers of permanent crops — citrus, olives and grapes among them — that need water year-round. Row crops can go fallow if there’s not enough water and can be replanted after water conditions improve, Jacobsma said.

“Many of those citrus growers are scrambling to try to acquire additional [water] supplies, but it’s been dry through the whole San Joaquin Valley and the watershed,” he said. “...We have some growers who are concerned they are going to lose their trees.”

To put the problem in perspective, a farm normally needs about three acre-feet of water in all to grow a crop, said Dale Brogan, general manager of the Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District, which distributes water through the Friant-Kern system for about 56,000 acres of farmland in southern Tulare County and northern Kern County.

His district had reduced the allotment for clients to an average of 1.7 acre-feet of water for their crops. Since last week’s Bureau of Reclamation announcement, the Delano-Earlimart clients will get only about 1.5 acre-feet of water.

“One way or another, I think my growers will find a way to get by this year,” he said.

Brogan said farmers with annual crops will likely let portions of their farms go fallow to make more water available for their more profitable crops. Some farmers who let their fields go fallow may opt to sell their water to neighboring farms, possibly at a premium price to make up some of their losses from not planting crops.

“Nobody is going to make a fortune marketing water in my district, but they will try to get what they would have made if they planted a crop,” he said.

Even if trees get enough water to survive the coming dry months, reduced watering could stress them enough that their fruit yields decline come harvest time, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, an Exeter-based trade association for citrus producers.

“It’s not in panic mode, but everyone’s concerned a little bit,” said Bryan Harden, farm manger for Booth Ranches, LLC, which operates about 8,000 acres of citrus farms in Tulare, Kern and Fresno counties.

Most of the Booth farms have wells, and over the winter the company repaired some that haven’t been used in years because of concern that extra well water would be needed this year.

“We’re prepared, but you never know when a well is going to run dry,” Harden said.

As for the reduced water allotments from the Friant Water Authority, Harden said even a 2 percent reduction is a lot when conditions are as dry as they are now.

“I think most people prepared for this, but nobody knows how much [water] they’re going to get and how their wells are going to turn out.”

And from what he’s hearing, Harden said that a rainy spring isn’t likely to manifest this year and turn things around.

“I cannot give you numbers, but it’s going to be bad,” said Gill, who hasn’t had a well to fall back on since his dried up six or seven years ago.

Still, he said he expects to receive enough canal water to keep his trees and vines alive. Even though Gill said his trees and vines may produce fewer almonds and grapes because of the limited water, he expects to harvest enough in September to make it worthwhile.

And next year’s crop yield could be reduced, too — especially if next winter is dry, Gill said.

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