United Vegetable Growers Cooperative — Our most precious resource is in critical condition. Chances are if you have driven through the Central San Joaquin Valley over the past 20 years you have seen prominent signs and billboards scattered along the interstate highways as well as the backroads.
Many can attest to driving by one of these signs countless times while checking their fall lettuce in Huron. The simple five-word message has been crystal clear and prophetic for many years: “Food Grows Where Water Flows.” The message seems so basic and elementary that the critical message became tone deaf.
West Coast farmers for generations have navigated multi-year cyclical drought conditions and have always managed to survive these conditions. Several seasons of heavy Sierra Nevada and Colorado Rockies snowpacks, along with above-average rainfall, and a short-term emergency was averted.
The current West Coast water conditions are not an overnight development, it has been gradually building for years. As a result of the ongoing drought, the western region of the country’s most strategic water storage reservoirs have been reduced to historic levels.
To provide context, the following are current levels of a few of California’s critical reservoir as of June 26: Lake Shasta is currently at 39% of its capacity and 50% of its historical average. Trinity is currently at 29% of its capacity and 38% of its historical average. Oroville is currently at 50% capacity and 65% of historical average. San Luis is currently at 40% capacity and 71% of its historical average.
As a result, multiple CSJ irrigation districts have been subject to extensive water allocations, which have gotten more severe over the past two years. These allocations cover all agriculture farming, be it row crops or orchards. And as the season moves toward its midway point, unless there is record precipitation along with snowpack, conditions will remain dire. Water allocations will only be deeper next season and farm acres will continue to be furrowed.
The challenge of this drought is not exclusive to California farmers. The Colorado River Basin is at its lowest levels ever recorded. With Lake Powell currently at 27% of capacity and Lake Mead at 29% of capacity. Now in an effort to preserve the water levels of these two critical reservoirs, drastic conservation measures are now being implemented. Targeted conservation levels of between two- and four-million-acre-feet of water (one acre-foot of water = 325,000 gallons) have been implemented to protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs for the next four years.
The primary effects of this conservation will be on the backs of the desert southwest agriculture, which ranges from the greater Yuma growing district to the Imperial Valley. The current outline of agriculture water conservation comes via usage restrictions, such as forcing farmers to determine which crops will be the most financially viable to farm. This is in addition to impacting the volume of crops that can be farmed, all while limiting the use of irrigation water. Keep in mind that during the winter months of November through March, over 85% of all leafy greens and vegetables consumed in North America is grown in the Greater Yuma and Imperial Valley growing districts.
This is more than just a growing concern. The impact of agriculture production limitations based upon water restrictions cannot be understated. And long-term water storage solutions can no longer be ignored.
Because, as the signs proclaim, only “Food Grows Where Water Flows.”