Monday, April 6, 2015

Keeping an Eye on Water Quality during the Drought

It’s no surprise we’ve been experiencing extremely dry weather.

But last week’s photos and videos of Governor Jerry Brown joining state water surveyors on Echo Summit near Lake Tahoe illustrated how dry it is.

Governor Brown (center) attends monthly snow survey.
It was no April Fool’s Day joke when surveyors stuck their poles into the ground and found nothing but dirt and grass. There was no snow to be found in an area that normally averages more than 66 inches of snow annual. 

Statewide, the snowpack’s water content is 5 percent of average, breaking the record 25 percent in 1977 and 1991. Ouch. We can expect no water from the meager snowpack as it melts in the coming weeks, according to State Water Chief Mark Cowin.

With that, Brown ordered historic water restrictions and called for water suppliers to keep track of water usage in agriculture. 

Water management certainly will become a major issue here in farm country. So will be pest management.

The fourth-straight dry year could see farmers dealing with a lot of pest pressures. That could lead to more pest treatments. That concerns Orvil McKinnis, a program manager with Summers Engineering, a Hanford water and irrigation management consulting firm.

The drought could create water quality issues this season.
McKinnis says increased chemical usage could impact water quality, which could raise a red flag to regulators. “The drought has lessened the amount of water that is in waterways, creeks and streams.” As a result, he says any chemicals found in the waterways will likely come in a more concentrated form.

At a recent field day, McKinnis told growers there has been an uptick in chlorpyrifos found in the waterways, reversing a downward trend. 

“I wanted to make a point with growers if we can’t get chlorpyrifos under control we’re going to lose the chemical,” he says.

Growers should weigh pest control options before treatment.
There are many options, including reduced-risk chemicals and biological controls.

“They should reach out for more information,” McKinnis says. “If they are not sure what to do they should ask. There is enough information available online, through their pest control advisors and other professionals that could answer any question.”

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