Private water bank eases drought concerns

Severe drought conditions don't seem to worry one Valley grower. Marvin Meyers has the state's only privately owned water banking facility.
February 20, 2014 7:23:52 PM PST
Severe drought conditions don't seem to worry one Valley grower. His foresight has not only protected his own farm but an entire water district as well.

Marvin Meyers has the state's only private water banking facility owned by an individual. Water gushes out 24 hours a day seven days a week from the water bank near Mendota. Three ponding basins can hold 35,000 acre feet of water - enough for Meyers to farm for three years.

"Back in the nineties I had a vision," said Marvin. "This is what it was and it worked."

Meyers grows 3,000 acres of almonds along interstate five in Merced County. The liquid gold the 79-year old keeps in the bank offers protection against drought.

"I call this water last resort water," said Marvin. "Obviously it seems the last couple of years have been last resort. I wouldn't have been here."

Nor would all the birds kids enjoy during school trips.

Biologist Jason Dean manages the Meyers Water Bank and Wildlife Project. The sandy soil serves as a natural filter for the underground aquifer.

"It's a great buffer, even with what we have now it's a real buffer," said Dean. "It puts us in more flexible position."

A rock juts from the water like a headstone. Many farmers face a grave situation. Hundreds of thousands of acres will sit idle this year as irrigation supplies dry up.

"It's going to be tragic," said Marvin. "You're going to see no row crop. In fact, I talked to many lettuce growers and there's going to be no lettuce."

Meyers built his water bank in 2002. High almond prices helped the multi-million dollar project pay for itself even as deliveries from the San Luis Reservoir dwindled.

Many irrigation canals are dry because Valley farmers face zero water allocation but when you have your own private water bank like Marvin Meyers you can make withdrawals any time you want.

But Marvin's also looking out for the San Luis Water District in which he farms. The US Bureau of Reclamation recently approved his bid to expand his bank to 60,000 acre feet. His reasoning was simple. "Because if San Luis Water District fails, I fail and there's got to be some way that I can be able to help sustain the district in drought."

Solar panels power his extraction wells. Marvin sells water to the district to distribute but he will not sell this precious commodity to other farmers.

"We've turned down so many guys," said Marvin. "I didn't want to get involved with, well you sold him some water what about me? I said no. I'm not in the marketing business."

Many consider Marvin Meyers a visionary.

Dean said, "It's just a lot of patience to get through the process, the capital to make it happen and the vision to drive it forward."

Right now the lack of storm clouds is reflected in low water levels. Five new ponding basins are dry but Marvin knows the drought can't last forever. At some point deposits will flow during a wet year and his bank is always open.

Meyers doesn't pump water from his private bank to his Merced county farm. It's done through an exchange. The San Luis Water District delivers water to Marvin's orchard. Meyers then releases the same amount of water into the Fresno Slough - and into the irrigation delivery system - so other farmers who get federal water receive their allotment.


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