“One rainy month will not make up for a six-year drought,” pointed out Larry Dick, Metropolitan Water District chairman of the Agriculture and Industry Relations Committee, at the first ever Agricultural Water Summit Feb. 3, sponsored by the Rancho California Water District.
Dick was the summit’s guest speaker at the South Coast Winery in Temecula Wine Country that brought more than 100 farmers and agricultural business owners to hear about how area water resources will be affected now and in the future.
Dick said, “the drought is not over,” and the water issues in California “have become increasingly challenging… . Farmers are now looking at quality as well as supply.” Looking through the years there has developed “a new era of cooperation between urban water districts and the state of California and “agricultural and urban interests have developed successful partnerships.”
After citing a number of cases where the cooperation between MWD, the state Water Resources Board and farmers has been highly successful, even more such cooperation will be needed in the future for newer water conservation projects underway in the northern part of the state.
He urged the farmers and other interests to continue improving ways to conserve precious water by using technology, good farming practices and to financially support new projects that will continue bringing good clean water from the northern part of the state to southern California. Can it be done, he asked. “Write this down. We put a man on the moon before we learned to put wheels on suitcases.”
Earlier Demetri Polyzos, senior engineer in the Water Resources Management Group to those attending said there was some good news about the recent series of rains. He said “Diamond Valley Lake may be full by the end of the year.” But he, like Dick, said while drought conditions are improving and reservoirs are filling up, we are not out of it yet. “We don’t get out of six years of drought overnight!”
While the recent rains have been beneficial for many of the Valley farmers and vintners and those in the Fallbrook area, one of today’s key growers problem is the amount of salt found in the soils. The salt has been building up in the soils during the drought because of the very salty Colorado River water being brought into southern California’s water districts and used by farmers. Southern California water supplies, are mostly imported from Northern California mountain snow fed rivers, streams and reservoirs. But those have been continually decreasing for the lack of rainfall since 2010.
According to descriptions from Avocado farmers and almond growers like Charles Wolk from Fallbrook and John Chandler from Selma, California, who spoke at the summit, while the availability of water now seems good for most farmers, the costs of imported water, more stringent regulations and the salt content in the ground is a much more significant problem.
“The 2017 avocado crop is one of the smallest in a good number of years,” Wolk said. “It is because of the salt.” He noted that to leach out the salt in the soil is now taking a very large amount of fresh water costing a lot of money. Meanwhile, it is damaging the fruit and making if much smaller. The recent rains have been helping, but it will take a lot more before the salt will be completely leached out. “My heart goes out to those who did not have the water needed.”
A similar situation exists with the almond crops, other nut trees and vineyards in the Central Valley that are being damaged by the rising salt content, according to Chandler.
The farmers and growers at the summit learned a number of technological advances are being made to conserve water and improve the quality and quantity of California agricultural products that could help their production.
Justin Haessly, RCWD’s senior water resources planner, described some of the recent programs being conducted by the University of California in partnership with the district to improve the area’s avocado and wine crops using less water and better farming methods. He told them about some of the most effective tools, like the “My Water Tractor,” to help farmers and vintners create more water efficient high quality crops. He said there are a number of grants available to farmers and growers and invited them to learn more about them on the RCWD website.
Sarge Green, water management specialist at the California Water Institute and Center for Irrigation Technology at Cal State Fresno told the group the center has a 1,000-acre farm where they are experimenting the with the latest water systems and water conservation technologies. They invite others to bring their inventions to the center for testing. Those new systems include the DRI drip system, Dynamax that monitors water systems and usage and a new Daisy Sensor ECCO product. He said some of the information from these new systems can be found on GoogleEarth.
Jay Gott from the Murrieta Innovation Center urged any farmers or growers with ideas on how to best conserve water to contact the center that might help them with creating a product that could help improve water conditions and quality in the area.
Other guest speakers at the summit included: Temecula councilwoman and for Temecula Mayor Maryann Edwards who welcomed those coming to the summit; Jim Barrett, Coachella Valley Water District general manager; Tim Ross, Ph.D., senior engineering geologist from the Southern Region Office of Department of Water Resources in Glendale who spoke about groundwater management; John Rossi , general manager of the Western Municipal Water District; Joel Del Bosque, CEO of Empress Del Bosque, Inc., a San Joaquin Valley farm enterprise; Jeff Armstrong, RCWD general manager and summit moderator; Paul Parreira, partner at RPAC Almond Growers & Handlers and Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.