California desert growers report ample water supplies

05/07/2014 04:38:00 PM
Jim Offner

If you need water in California these days, you may have to go to the desert.

With growers struggling to meet demands for water in California’s San Joaquin Valley and other growing interior regions of the state, their colleagues in the desert say they’re getting all the moisture they need.

“Our water situation in the Coachella Valley is secured through our allotment of water under the Quantification Settlement Agreement,” said Franz De Klotz, vice president of marketing with Mecca, Calif.-based grower-shipper Richard Bagdasarian Inc.

The Quantification Settlement Agreement, which dates to 2003, defines the rights to a portion of Colorado River water for four water districts in Southern California. It also provides for a water transfer between the Imperial Valley and San Diego for 35 years — the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer in the U.S., according to the Water Education Foundation.

The agreement also created a Joint Powers Authority comprised of the Imperial Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District, San Diego County Water Authority and the state of California to pay for environmental mitigation of the Salton Sea.

“All of that is used for farming in the valley,” De Klotz said.

Of course, the federal government could step in and alter the agreement, but for now the situation is stable, he said.

Drake Larson, president of Drake Larson Sales, a family-owned grape grower-shipper in Thermal, Calif., agreed.

“I think we got good water rights from the Colorado River early on,” he said.

There is irony in having more stable access to water in the desert than some growers have in the fertile valleys of central California, said Dave Clyde, president of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based grape grower-shipper Stevco Inc.

Maintaining adequate supplies of high-quality water isn’t just a matter of relying on contracts and the regular flow of moisture from aquifers and reservoirs, said John Burton, general manager of Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella.

Each company has to work hard to make sure the water that is provided is used well, he said.

“Through good sustainability programs, where we do lots and lots of drip, we take care of our water,” he said.

The efforts are paying off, Burton said.

“Right now, we seem to have ample water for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The irony isn’t lost on Rob Spinelli, salesman with Bakersfield, Calif.-based grape grower-shipper Anthony Vineyards.

“You’d think the desert would have a harder issue with water than northern California,” he said.

Mike Aiton, marketing director of Coachella-based Prime Time International, agreed.

“It is ironic, but we grow throughout Mexico and California in eight different locations and, for right now, the cheapest and best source of water is in the desert,” he said.



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