SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Despite California’s continuing drought, most grower-shippers of fruit say they’ll make it through using surface water — if they receive any — and groundwater.
The situation varies from water district to water district and from grower to grower, even within the same water district.
Grower-shippers in the Arvin-Edison Water District, for example, will receive 100% of deliveries this season because of groundwater banking started during the state’s last prolonged drought from 1997-2003.
But others, such as those who depend on the federal Central Valley Project or the State Water Project, will receive no surface deliveries and will be fully dependent on wells.
Regardless of surface supplies, many fruit grower-shippers also have wells to supplement or provide all of their irrigation water this year, said John Pandol, special projects manager for Delano-based Pandol Bros. Inc.
“Most of us have been around for a long time, and some of us have wells that go back to the days before the canals,” he said. “I’d say most of us have the ability to irrigate in a normal manner. You won’t see radical changes for lack of water.”
Chance Kirk, director of retail and foodservice sales for Vincent B. Zaninovich & Sons Inc., Richgrove, said the operation has invested in capital improvements, including sinking new wells, during the past five to 10 years that will allow it to weather the drought this year.
“So we’re not dependent on district water,” he said.
Even if you have the money to pay for a new well, Kirk said drilling companies have a six- to 12-month waiting list.
What has him concerned are the long-term effects of continued pumping by agriculture and the oil industry in the south San Joaquin Valley.
“We have a large aquifer that everybody is pulling from. Once that aquifer collapses, it won’t regenerate,” he said.
The drought also may have hastened removal of some marginal vineyards, where growers in an adequate water year would have let them go another season. But Pandol said it’s nothing drastic.
“It’s probably a little more than we’d normally see, and it’s being driven by the water situation,” he said.
Stone fruit growers with The Guimarra Co., Reedley, also will not receive any canal water this year, instead relying on wells, said John Thiesen, division manager.
“We’re going to be very judicious in the use of our water and be very careful with how much we use,” he said.
Although most growers will get by, possibly fallowing row-crop ground to divert water to permanent crops, production costs no doubt will increase, said George Matoian, sales and marketing director at Visalia Produce Sales Inc., Kingsburg.
“When you’re talking grape and tree fruit, those are permanent crops, and those crops are going to get irrigated, and those crops are going to get harvested,” he said. “The only thing is our cost is going to increase because of the water situation.”
Matoian cited one grower-client who said water costs have gone up eightfold to $2,500 per acre this season from $350 last year. Based on average yields, the increased water cost alone adds about $2 to a box of table grapes, he said.
That doesn’t include the $1 per hour increase in state minimum wage that goes into effect July 1, raising the rate to $9 per hour, Matoian said.