NEWMAN, Calif. — Stewart & Jasper Orchards, a 66-year-old almond grower, handler and processor, was using sustainable farming practices for decades before they were in vogue. But the recent statewide drought and accompanying water cutbacks have prompted the Newman-based operation to make some tough decisions that go against its long-standing philosophy.
A project on the drawing board that would deliver treated wastewater from three Central Valley cities to the Del Puerto Water District in which Stewart & Jasper farms has buoyed company owner and president Jim Jasper’s outlook.
“This is just the best thing that could happen as far as I’m concerned,” said Jasper, who also sits on the water district’s board of directors. “Sustainability is great, but if you don’t have water, forget about everything else.”
Jim Jasper, his son Jason Jasper and several of the company’s managers showed off their sustainable practices May 16 to regulators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Air Resources Board and regional Water Quality Control Board.
The tour, in its 11th year, is hosted by the Modesto-based California Almond Board and is designed to help educate regulators about environmentally friendly practices almond growers use.
The Jaspers farm about 2,000 acres of mostly almonds in the Del Puerto Water District, which is a federal Central Valley Project water contractor. All of their acreage is planted on efficient micro-jet or drip irrigation, depending on the soil type.
Stewart & Jasper also shells, hulls and processes almonds from another 150 nearby growers.
The water district serves about 45,000 acres of mostly permanent crops, said Anthea Hansen, general manager.
This year, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the CVP, announced that most water districts would receive no surface deliveries. In the past during a typical year, the Del Puerto district received about 140,000 acre-feet, or about 3.1 acre-feet per acre of cropland, she said.
CVP operators blame the drought and as well as fisheries requirements in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for the lack of deliveries south of the delta.
And unlike many farmers on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley who have back-up wells, Jasper said pumping isn’t an option for his district’s growers.
“It’s very challenging today with zero allocation,” he said.
About six years ago, the Del Puerto district began exploring the possibility of using tertiary treated wastewater. Tertiary is the highest Environmental Protection Agency treatment standard.
Jasper said the concept is nothing new. The Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency for the past 14 years has been using recycled water to irrigated crops in the Salinas Basin and to prevent saltwater intrusion around Castroville.
About four years ago, Jasper said the cities of Modesto, Ceres and Turlock met with Del Puerto officials about a mutually beneficial proposal.
“They had a problem — they were under the gun to get rid of (treated wastewater), and we had a need,” Jasper said. “I can’t express how this is going to help us in the situation we’re in today. I can assure you — this water issue is not going to go away.”
Under the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, the proposed water cost for farmers would be $200 to $250 per acre-foot. An acre-foot — roughly 326,000 gallons — can meet the annual water needs of a family of 4-5.
Growers within the district would foot the project’s bill, which is expected to run about $2,500 per acre, Jasper said.
The district will begin the public and environmental review process this week. If everything goes according to schedule, Jasper said the project could be finished by 2017 or 2018.
Initially, it would yield about 26,500 acre-feet of water. But that could increase to about 60,000 acre-feet by 2045 as the cities grow, Hansen said.
Whether Jasper and other growers in the area can survive the next four years with possibly no surface water deliveries remains to be seen, he said.