Statewide water shortage offers little help to local water districts, farmers
by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator
Feb 20, 2014 | 541 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Farm fields like this one near the corner of Elfers Road and Ward Avenue may remain fallow because of drought conditions throughout the state.----Photo by Brooke Borba
Farm fields like this one near the corner of Elfers Road and Ward Avenue may remain fallow because of drought conditions throughout the state.----Photo by Brooke Borba
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Water shortages due to a three-year drought will make for a tough irrigation season for water districts on the West Side, according to local water officials.

The drought, which has just dropped a few inches in Northern California since July, leaves officials with little alternative but to cut allocations, meaning fields with seasonal or row crops such as broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and beans may remain fallow.

Anthea Hansen, Acting General Manager of the Del Puerto Water District, said they are making every effort possible to maintain and replenish their water. Currently, the Del Puerto Water District is dependent on federal water projects to distribute some 90,000 acre-feet of water to local farmers in a narrow stretch from Tracy to Los Banos.

Right now the district believes 15,000 to 20,000 acres in that area could remain fallow. Permanent crops such as almonds and walnuts will receive water, and those that conserved will also receive water from previous years, but Hansen says she believes later this spring the federal government will come back with no water allocations for the West Side for the first time in history.

“We’re looking for water actively throughout the state,” she said. “We’re looking throughout all the normal supplemental channels. No one is receiving water and no one has water available.”

There is about 20,000 acre-feet of water for those growers who have conserved in previous years, but now all growers are entitled to that water, which sits in the San Luis Reservoir just outside of Los Banos.

For customers of the Patterson Irrigation District in east Patterson, the picture is less clear and no more optimistic, said Peter Rietkerk, general manager there.

Patterson Irrigation District, which has water rights to the San Joaquin River that date back prior to 1914, will have some water from the river, he said. How much, however, is anyone’s guess.

“It is a very fluid situation,” Reitkerk said in all seriousness. “The State Water Quality Control Board is considering various different modifications to operators from the river. I wish we had a better idea.”

Reitkerk said he told growers last week that they could guarantee six inches per acre for irrigation. After that, it depends on what the state board does and how much water comes through the river, he said.

In a normal year, farmers attached to the Patterson Irrigation District can count on two feet of water per acre, he said.

“It’s a tough year because of the drought,” he said. “These growers are well aware of the situation. We’re going to try and manage the best we can.”

Farmer and Stanislaus County Supervisor Chairman Jim DeMartini said he is meeting with irrigation district folks to try and find solutions.

The situation isn’t just bad for the West Side.

“It’s a very dire situation,” DeMartini said. “We got by last year but had to cut back some. Neither Turlock Irrigation District nor Modesto Irrigation District will have water sufficient for year-round crops. There is long term consequences if we pump from wells.”

DeMartini said domestic groundwater cannot be dried up, either.

“No one has water for sale,” he said. “We are short developing a plan.”

State and Federal authorities last week announced efforts to alleviate some of the Central Valley’s water crisis by attempting to join forces to share water between federal and state project. The California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has petitioned the State Water Resources Control Board to exchange water in areas served by the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said it could lead to efficient use of limited resources.

“We look forward to working with the state water board to maximize the beneficial use of available water supplies in this extraordinary year,” he said.

In his Jan. 17 emergency drought declaration, Gov. Pat Brown directed the Department of Water Resources, which operates the State Water Project, to submit the petition in cooperation with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Central Valley Project.
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