Randy Fiorini irrigates peaches, wine grapes, walnuts and almonds on a Turlock-area family farm that dates to 1909.
He also helps map a future for water statewide, most notably as a member of the Delta Stewardship Council. The six-member panel is trying to balance water supply and ecosystem needs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where most of the state's river water meets.
Fiorini shared his thoughts on the delta, conservation, reservoir needs, water sales and related issues.
Q: What is the No. 1 challenge for water users statewide and in the Northern San Joaquin Valley?
A: Dry-year water supply reliability will be the greatest challenge for water users throughout California. In the San Joaquin Valley, that challenge is significantly greater for the agricultural water users in areas that depend upon water transferred through the delta.
Q: What water storage projects are doable, and would any of them affect our area?
A: Studies necessary for permitting and building two large water storage projects in California have been under way for many years, but those studies have yet to be completed. There are many smaller local and regional storage project locations, some in our area, that could be permitted and built. Ever-increasing environmental requirements for in-stream flows have reduced the amount of water available for human consumption. Additional surface water storage projects are necessary to capture more water in wet years, store it and provide dry year supplemental in-stream flows for fish and for groundwater basin recharge.
Q: Is there still much potential for water conservation on the farm?
A: California agriculture has done a remarkable job improving the efficiency of on-farm water use. Computer-aided moisture monitoring and irrigation scheduling, conversion from flood and furrow methods to microsprinkler and drip systems are now standard on most row crop, tree and vine operations. This application of modern technology has resulted in more than just water savings. Yields for many crops have doubled because of more efficient methods of irrigation. A grower today would be crazy not to invest in modern delivery systems.
Q: Is a consensus emerging on how to fix the delta? What would this involve?
A: Great questions. YES! In 2009, the California Legislature passed a legislative package to address a number of critical water policy issues. One component of the Delta Reform Act of 2009 was the creation of the Delta Stewardship Council, an independent state agency responsible for creating and implementing a comprehensive planning document, drawing from the best available science to help guide water supply reliability and ecosystem health actions in the delta through the year 2100. After nearly three years of planning, hundreds of meetings, thousands of pages of public comments, the Delta Plan is nearing completion and will hopefully be approved and adopted later this year. Many hope that the implementation of this plan will lead to wise investments for a more reliable water supply for California and a protected, restored and enhanced delta ecosystem.
Q: Is it possible to protect salmon and other fish while maintaining water supplies?
A: Yes, it is possible to protect native fish species such as salmon in the delta and maintain a reliable water supply for the economy, but the recommended actions will not be popular, will be expensive, will be difficult to implement, and will require a significant improvement in cooperation between state, federal and local agencies that have operational and regulatory authority in the delta. There are many stressors in the delta that negatively impact a healthy fishery besides water project operations. Water pollution, low dissolved oxygen in the deep-water ship channels, invasive aquatic species that compete with endangered fish species for food, introduced non-native fish species such as striped bass that eat the salmon and delta smelt we are trying to protect, and reverse flows in the south delta have contributed to the reduced numbers of important native fish species. To effectively improve the conditions for endangered native fish species in the delta, all stressors need to be addressed.
Q: What is the role of water transfers such as what the Modesto Irrigation District proposed with San Francisco?
A: The recent failed attempt by the MID and San Francisco to negotiate a water transfer shows how difficult achieving a mutually beneficial agreement can be. California's two largest water projects, the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, have depended upon water transfers for more than five decades. Each of these projects largely depends upon transferring water through the delta from upstream reservoirs such as Shasta and Oroville to the eastern parts of the Bay Area, the Southern San Joaquin Valley and much of Southern California. There are other examples throughout the state of smaller, regional-based transfers as well. State and federal investment in water supply infrastructure has not kept pace with California's growing population over the past five decades, so water transfers will become increasingly more attractive to areas that are faced with other very expensive options to meet growing demands.
Q: How can groundwater management help with the situation?
A: Using groundwater to address surface water shortage problems has very limited application. Generally speaking, the groundwater situation in California is not good. It is estimated that the groundwater pumping, for urban and agricultural purposes, is being overdrafted to the tune of 1 million to 2 million acre-feet a year. Much of that overdraft occurs in the San Joaquin Valley region. Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water for communities in our local region and becomes especially important for agriculture during periods of drought. Additionally, the quality of the groundwater has been deteriorating over time. In our area, nitrates and arsenic are particularly vexing problems.
Q: How can California prepare for a possible changed climate, especially a reduced snowpack?
A: Climate change is real. If you analyze California's past 100 years of precipitation records, one will notice immediately that the most recent 50 years have had higher highs and lower lows than the previous 50 years. That trend will likely continue. Scientists tell us that we can expect less snow and more rainfall in the Sierra over the next 100 years. Traditionally, the Sierra snowpack has been California's largest reservoir. If the scientists are correct about the effects of climate change, then we must consider investing in more surface water and groundwater storage and flood-control projects to capture and better manage the earlier runoff.
Q: What crops do you grow and what is the outlook for each of them?
A: Our local family farming operation began in 1909. Today, my son and youngest daughter represent the fourth generation of our family to farm. We produce peaches, wine grapes, almonds and walnuts. The outlook for the commodities that we produce is good. Market demand and supply are in good balance.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
If you know of someone who might make a good subject for Monday Q&A, mail Bee local news editor Deke Farrow at email@example.com. Use "Monday Q&A" in the subject line.
Name: Randy Fiorini
Current work: Fruit and nut grower in Turlock area; member of the Delta Stewardship Council, which could soon make key decisions on water supplies and ecosystem repair in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
Past work: Turlock Irrigation District board member; president, Association of California Water Agencies; president, California Farm Water Coalition