Water Rationing Ordered for West-Side Farmers

May 30, 2008 7:57:43 PM PDT
Farmers on the valley's west side from Los Banos south along I-5 were expecting just 45-percent of their normal water delivery. Now they've been told they'll receive less than a half-acre foot of water per acre.It's not enough to grow food. Tomatoes, for example, need one-and-a-half acre feet of water to get through August.

Many crops already in the ground will be abandoned because water-rationing will last the entire summer, when irrigation is most needed. Sarah Woolf of the Westlands Water District said "They have been preparing for a light water year but this is unprecedented. We've never had anything of this magnitude happen before."

Some west-side farmers planted wheat and safflower because they don't need as much water as other crops but you will feel the effect of these additional water restrictions. Riverdale grower Mark Borba said "Well it's kind of basic, lower supply, same demand, higher prices. There are gonna be fewer cans of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste."

Many farmers pump groundwater to make up for cutbacks in water delivery. Some have put in new wells on their land but Borba said "It's very insufficient. A well only can produce so many gallons per hour."

Growers with permanent crops like pistachios and almonds will try to keep their trees hydrated and forego vegetables and other row crops. Woolf said "There will be loss of crops and loss of jobs. People will make determinations on what crops are economically viable to keep in the ground."

Woolf said Westlands had to order water-rationing to protect the San Luis Reservoir. She added "San Luis Reservoir is an earthen dam and can only be drawn down at two-feet a day or it will actually sluff off some of its sides and lose its integrity."

Pumping restrictions in the delta to protect the endangered delta smelt have intensified the west-side water woes.

Congressman Jim Costa along with the Bureau of Reclamation will discuss the water rationing plan with growers Monday morning at 10:30 at the Los Banos Fairgrounds.


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