“We need a Miracle March,” Kern County almond grower Don Davis says, expressing the concern of many farmers as California drops deeper into drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor said last week 85% of the state is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought and, on the same day, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced low initial allocations for customers of its Central Valley Project.
The bureau said it had allocated 5% supplies to its agricultural service contractors both north and south of the delta. Davis buys water through a Class 1 contract with the CVP Friant Division and would receive a 20% supply.
“That allocation means they will give me about 20% of my normal usage, so the other 80% is going to have to come from wells,” he said.
In the Westlands Water District, which received a 5% a location, General Manager Tom Birmingham said in a statement that the announcement was not surprising, given current hydrologic conditions and regulations that restrict CVP operations. “It is devastating nonetheless for farmers and communities across the region that rely on water from the CVP and jobs created by irrigated agriculture,” Birmingham said.
Ryan Ferguson, who farms a mix of crops in the Huron area of the Westlands district, said the 5% allocation “is going to make it difficult to manage water budgets this year.” He said he will not plant land where he lacks a contract for crops, such as pima cotton.
The additional constraints and costs associated with balancing groundwater supplies under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, may bring further cuts in planting of annual crops, Ferguson said.
“Hydrology, including precipitation and snowpack, have been down, reservoir conditions are poor, operations in the delta are still constrained, so all of the unfortunate elements are there,” Michael said. “We’ve had a program in place locally to do some land fallowing and transfer water to neighboring farms that don’t have water.”
Given the short water supply and implementation of SGMA, he said farmers and districts are “trying to use different tools and explore every option,” such as seeking to build Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir, groundwater recharge projects and more.