Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Steve Adler, associate editor of Ag Alert.
Already struggling with short water supplies in 2013, farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley have been warned that next year could be worse.
That's the assessment of Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, which buys water from the federal Central Valley Project. Growers this year are receiving a 20 percent allocation and, unless there is a very wet winter ahead, Birmingham said the initial CVP allocation next spring could be zero.
"It is projected that the combined storage in San Luis Reservoir will hit a record low at the end of August, lower than 1977, the driest year on record in California," he said.
Birmingham said the current projections for end-of-year storage for all CVP reservoirs are that storage will be well below average and as a consequence there will be very little water carried over from this water year into the next water year.
"It is for that reason and the potential restrictions on the operation of delta pumping plants that we are projecting that absent a wet December and a wet January, it is probable that the initial allocation for water users in Westlands will be zero," he said.
To cope with this year's reduced water deliveries, farmers have had to make hard decisions on how to utilize the water they have. Those who grow both annual crops and permanent crops have often fallowed the open land to use their allocation to keep the trees and vines alive. Others are pumping groundwater to supplement, and still others are buying water wherever they can find it and paying record high prices.
Farmer Dan Errotabere of Riverdale said he is paying three times the CVP contract price for supplemental water and even so, it is difficult to obtain water.
"Because of the 20 percent allocation, we have had to fallow about 600 acres and if we get a zero allocation in 2014, we will have to fallow a lot more acres than that. We will just be focusing on our permanent crops and forget about the row crops. We have been relying more and more on groundwater and that has been dropping too," he said. "This is one of the worst scenarios I have ever seen. For some of the farmers who have a large part of their operation in permanent crops, some of them are going to run out of water this month."
Farmer Shawn Coburn of Firebaugh is in a similar situation. He said he planted no row crops this year and is pumping groundwater to keep his almonds and winegrapes alive.