Water under the bridge? Not on our watch

02/21/2014 10:14:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Mike Hornick, Staff WriterMike Hornick, Staff WriterBogart and Bergman will always have Paris, while in California it seems we’ll always have that 800,000 acre-feet of water that flowed into the ocean — not storage — in late 2012.

Have it, that is, as a political point to score in debates over the causes and cures of the state’s water shortage.

We’d rather have the water than the talking point, but will make do.

The latest lament came from Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, who put the loss into perspective at a Feb. 14 forum in Sacramento.

“That 800,000 acre-feet of water would have grown 10 million tons of tomatoes, 200 million boxes of lettuce, 20 million tons of grapes or 210 million cartons of melons,” he told a group of state and regional water managers.

Naturally, agriculture would have had to share with other users any water saved by easing pumping restrictions — as proposed in recent Senate and House legislation. But you get the picture: it’s a lot of water.

Getting thirsty

With too little now and a drought, widespread fallowing of ground is underway in parts of California. Consumer prices are not reacting to that yet, but it’s early.

“We know that land that would have been planted in the coming months to bell peppers, to cantaloupes, to watermelons, to sweet corn will not be planted because there simply isn’t water supply to meet those demands,” Wade said.

Fallow land proved worthy even of presidential attention, as Barack Obama came to Los Banos on the same day as the Sacramento forum.

He was there to stare at dirt, more or less — Del Bosque Farms fields that won’t be used for cantaloupe or asparagus.

Much of the relief announced there was for livestock assistance. There were provisions and commitments as well for conservation and for flexibility in delivering water from federal projects.

Growers — many of whom feel their own conservation efforts have gone unappreciated by the public — would like to see more water stored.

And a nice round of late-winter storms to make that possible.

mhornick@thepacker.com

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