It was more terrible news for West Side farmers Friday as the federal Central Valley Project told customers there would be a second straight year of “zero allocations.” That means they’ll get virtually no water. That, in turn, will mean a renewed emphasis on conservation throughout the state.
Heavy rains in December and February couldn’t overcome the driest January on record for Northern California. Following a third dry year, much of the rain that fell was soaked up by the dry ground, so there was little runoff into the reservoirs. Shasta Lake, built to hold 4.5 million acre-feet (about twice the size of Don Pedro), is holding only 2.6 million. Trinity Lake, the CVP’s second-largest reservoir, is at 46 percent. That’s slightly more water than they contained last year at this time, but only slightly.
This is going to put additional pressure on groundwater supplies throughout the Valley.
Irrigation districts on the west side of Stanislaus County get their water from the federal reservoirs, but through a complex agreement that guarantees them first dibs even as others get zero. Those on the east side of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties get water from Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts, where the water supply is more reliable.
Modesto’s Paul Wenger is president of the California Farm Bureau, and he wasn’t happy Friday.
“The CVP announcement is both saddening and maddening,” he told the website AgWeb. “Saddening because the continued cutoff of water will prolong the impact of shortages on farmers, their employees and rural communities. It’s maddening because California still struggles to manage water wisely and flexibly, especially in dry years.”
He is right. Just having more storage facilities won’t be enough. There has to be flexibility in how dams (old and new) are managed. When water is plentiful (if we can imagine such a thing), the dams need to store as much as possible for when it’s not. Empty reservoirs help neither farmers nor fish.
It would also be nice to see the state fund local programs to pay for replacement of lawn with drought resistant landscaping. Such a program in the Los Angeles area allowed the region to meet its 20 percent goal last year. To see greater conservation in the Valley, we’ll need something similar.
A word or two about birds
If you’re a fan of movies, you know “Birdman” won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture last weekend. You might not know we have our own bird film made here. “Wings Over Our Two Counties” is about the birds of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. It will be shown at the State Theatre on April 12 as part of a double-feature with “Birders: The Central Park Effect.” The movie was filmed and produced by David Froba. And if it inspires you to want to learn more, the Audubon Society will be on hand.
And now, about the bees
The Bee featured almond farmer Mike Silveira last week for his work planting mustard in his almond orchards north of Oakdale. The California Department of Agriculture has posted a story about Silveira’s “bee spa” orchards. Go to plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov. Most people know bee populations have been under extreme stress due to a number of factors, from mites to pesticides. Silveira and more than 100 of his fellow nut farmers are doing something about it.