Monday, March 9, 2015

Drought Part IV: Valley Growers Press Ahead Amid Uncertainly Over Water

It is no surprise we’re headed into a fourth straight dry year and growers are getting quite anxious around the Valley as the prospects of a March Miracle or April showers appear slimmer by the day.
State Water surveyor finds a skimpy snowpack in the Sierra.
It also was no surprise that state Department of Water Resources surveyors found dismal conditions last week during their monthly wintertime snowpack measurements in the Sierra Nevada. They reported the water content in the snow was less than an inch, the lowest level since 1991. Even the foot of snow that fell in the high country a week ago won’t make much difference to reverse what is certainly going to be a fourth straight year of drought, water officials say. 

Normally, Mother Nature’s water savings account – the Sierra snowpack – supplies about a third of our water needs. Not this year – again. And, it was no surprise when water managers also last week indicated farmers probably won’t get any federal water for a second year in a row.

As you recall, farmers left acres of fields fallow (an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 acres), uprooted almond trees, turned water well drilling into a booming business and diverted water to more profitable crops. Once again, growers are trying to navigate through these rough waters. 

Alfalfa growers are irrigating for the first time this season.
Growers, however, are a resilient bunch. Despite these challenging times, growers are pressing ahead this season.

Field scout Carlos Silva reports many alfalfa growers are sticking it out again and have been irrigating their crop in the past week. It’s too early to tell how many cuttings they’ll have this season.

Last year, some growers thought they would harvest until early summer, figuring water supplies would go dry by then. Somehow, though, many growers were able to harvest alfalfa until the fall – about the same as a normal season.

For now, the season’s first alfalfa is growing nicely, standing about 8 to 10 inches tall. Carlos plans to start scouting for pests soon.

 Field Day Alert: Here’s a reminder the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project’s first event of the year is this Thursday, March 12. Learn about pesticide and pest management issues in almonds, alfalfa cotton at this free event scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon at the Scout Hut, 1910 Marguerite Street, Dos Palos. Our speakers are UC IPM extension advisor Dr. Pete Goodell, state Department of Pesticide Regulation environmental scientist Brandi Martin and Chris Linneman, program manager and engineer with the Westside San Joaquin River Watershed Coalition.  For more information, contact program Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) (530) 370-5325. There should be lots of useful information, especially with another challenging year ahead.

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