Wet winter provides more water for Valley crops

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- For decades Valley growers have been working to save water.

Drip systems are efficient but don't leave enough water to seep back into the ground, where it could later be pumped up.

The underground supply growers rely on in dry years has diminished, and the state has mandated it be restored.

Putting water in a basin is one way to let it percolate back into the ground. It's a way to utilize that extra water from the rain and snow melt.

Recharge basins are effective, but some farmers in Madera County have found a more old fashioned way to put water back into the ground.

"It's somewhat of an experiment as a whole I think everybody is looking to find out how likely it is that we can recharge the amount of water we need to recharge when that water is available," said Brian Davis.

Davis is flooding his 140-acre wine grape vineyard with water.

Flood irrigation has fallen out of favor in recent years as a water waster.

Irrigating this time of year seems odd because grape plants are dormant, but the soil is soaking up water like a sponge, and the water is percolating underground.

"The idea is kind of like a savings account," Davis said.

The Madera Irrigation District is providing the water it's getting from Millerton Lake to its growers for free this month if they use it to recharge the underground supply.

This method of using their existing equipment and land is seen as a cost-effective way to help restore the groundwater supply.

"There's not an additional cost to build new storage reservoirs or other infrastructure we can use our existing facilities that would not have been traditionally used this time of year," said Tom Greci.

Not all crops will tolerate being over watered, and not all soil will absorb the water.

"Some areas are definitely better than others, but our growers are the best ones to know which crops can take water and which ones cant," Grechi said.

But it's working in other areas. Well levels are rising, and the hope is more growers will try it.

"It's really hard to get everybody involved and be able to move the amount of water that you need to move. But I think the word is spreading," Davis said.

While many Valley growers are hoping for a new dam to hold some of the extra water from wet years, putting it in the ground on existing fields a way to save some of that water now.
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