Straw, sticks, bricks and water

06/21/2013 09:35:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Mike Hornick, Staff WriterMike Hornick, Staff WriterIt’s no news flash that California’s Central Valley is a hot, dry place.

But for a tenderfoot venturing out of his coastal comfort zone to Visalia, Delano and Fresno, it’s striking to see endless groves and vineyards rising up out of … what?

Darn good soil, for sure.

But where’s the water?

In a cynical moment on a recent visit, I hatched my own classification system for the local plant life: the irrigated and the dead.

That’s a bit of an overstatement. But you see there’s a problem.

Over on the Westside, growers were told in March that federal water allocations would be just 20% of normal. Not everyone, though, will suffer equally after a dry winter.

To explain why, John Pandol, special projects director for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., invokes his own classification system, based on the “Three Little Pigs” fairy tale.

“The guys in the house of straw have only canal water and no access to well water,” Pandol said.

“The house of sticks has limited access to well water, and the house of bricks guys can irrigate everything with well water. This year the house of straw and the house of sticks are going to be in trouble on all kinds of crops.”

Buyers could see inadequately irrigated crops hit the market this summer as growers try to unload them and minimize losses.

Pandol Bros., by the analogy, is a house of bricks. The company deepened old wells in response to a 1970s drought.

That would be a lot more expensive for anyone hoping to do the same now. They may have to depend instead on the kindness of strangers, whether Mother Nature or federal and state water allocators.

The valley’s growers aren’t happy with water allocation policy. Discontent leaves them pondering worst-case scenarios.

Pandol wondered aloud if the state might be tempted to pay off debt by selling rights to oil shale in Kern and Monterey counties, diverting water from agriculture to fracking.

With new taxes in the pipeline in California and plenty of environmentalists here, the scenario seems unlikely.

But absurdities arise in politics. Maybe we’ve found a new reason to buy oil stock.

mhornick@thepacker.com

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