California grape vineyards, orchards vie for water - The Packer

California grape vineyards, orchards vie for water

06/25/2013 11:26:00 AM
Mike Hornick

FRESNO, Calif. — Like Westside melon growers and other California growing operations, table grape producers are feeling the pinch of cutbacks in water allocations.

It’s not expected to hurt volumes this year — another record crop is possible since vineyards plan to make up the difference by pumping more groundwater.

But it’s a temporary fix.

In California, water has long been an issue that divides north and south, even within the agricultural industry. Tree fruit and nut growers in the Sacramento River delta have not exactly embraced the idea of sending water south.

Even so, Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, hopes to find common ground as talks on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan proceed.

The plan proposes three new intakes on the river to aid fish species whose decline was a factor in reduced allocations, and to send water to aqueducts and federal water projects.

“We’re going to be sitting down with the (Gov. Jerry) Brown administration and listening to their proposal,” Bedwell said June 3.

“It’s a conveyance plan to move water through the delta for Central Valley agriculture as well as Southern California residents. It’s very controversial.”

“We’re going to try to address the concerns of our members in the north so that they can feel that at least they are going to have their property and water rights preserved, and that productive farmland won’t be turned back into estuary,” Bedwell said.

“That’s a tall order right now,” he said. “Our members in the northern valley and the delta just don’t see this as a good fix. But they have always said they are not against sending excess water south.”

The definition of excess water varies by grower and region.

One thing they seem to agree on is the need for more storage.

Support for the Brown administration would likely be linked to the building of dams — another bone of contention.

“We have to get around this concept that dams are somehow taboo to the environmental community and thus they’ll never happen,” Bedwell said.

“Even environmentalists have to understand that the whole concept of global warming means you’ll have less snowpack for less time. You’ll need better ways to store that runoff or we’re all going to suffer,” he said.

Even if the Bay Delta plan or something like it gains acceptance, implementation could take 20 years or more. What happens to grape growers in the meantime?

They’ll hope for wet winters. Or bank on the aquifer.

“Most people will supplement the water supplies they get through irrigation districts by pumping groundwater,” Bedwell said. “It’s more expensive because you’re spending money on electricity, plus you’re drawing down the aquifer.

"It’s a double whammy that you don’t want to see happen. But the cutbacks will not result in any immediate impact on production.”



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