Impact of Drought Emergency on one of Ventura County’s largest industries- agriculture

Plow

By John Krist

Subject: Re: FOLLOW-UP Breaking News: Gov. Jerry Brown declares drought emergency

 

The drought’s immediate impact is felt most acutely by our livestock producers, who rely on natural forage. Without rain, there’s no grass, and that means they must either buy supplemental feed or sell off their stock.

For the irrigated agriculture sector, the impact is more subtle. With very
few exceptions, Ventura County farmers rely on local groundwater for
irrigation. The lack of rainfall means they must pump more often, which
raises their costs for energy and extraction fees. Artificial irrigation is
not as effective as rainfall at flushing salts from the soil, so salinity
builds up and can cause reduction of plant vigor and consequent loss of crop
yields. It’s also difficult to apply sufficient water to tree crops using
irrigation alone, which has had an effect on fruit size. Smaller fruit is
generally less valuable than large fruit, so this can also impact grower
returns.

In the Ojai Valley, a special case, aquifer levels have fallen so far in
some areas that wells have run dry, forcing growers to switch to deliveries
from Casita Municipal Water District. That’s the way the system was
designed, but it significantly increases grower costs.

Longer term, the drought poses significant challenges to groundwater
management. Increased pumping in the absence of rainfall or runoff to
recharge aquifers means overdraft in critical basins. In the Fox Canyon
system, this causes seawater intrusion to accelerate, threatening to disable
coastal wells and making it difficult to reverse the problem if and when
wetter conditions return. The lack of surface runoff also has depleted
storage in Lake Piru, which is a key source of diverted water for Oxnard
Plain groundwater recharge.

The reduced level in Lake Piru also poses a threat to crops grown on land
served by United Water Conservation District’s Pumping Trough Pipeline. The
PTP delivers surface water diverted from the Santa Clara River and
groundwater pumped from deep wells to growers on about 4,000 acres in an
overdraft-prone area of the Oxnard Plain. In October, when strawberry plants
are being established, demand is extremely high and generally meets or
exceeds the PTP’s design capacity. With so little water in Lake Piru, United
was unable to release anything for surface diversion into the PTP in
October, reducing delivery capacity by 50%. Through careful management —
and a lack of prolonged Santa Ana conditions — the growers were able to get
through the situation last year. But they may not be so fortunate this year.

______________________________________

John Krist is Chief Executive Officer, Farm Bureau of Ventura County

 

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2 Responses to Impact of Drought Emergency on one of Ventura County’s largest industries- agriculture

  1. Citizen Reporter January 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Bill- good to see really informed comments such as you provide, thanks. Have you had a chance to read Larry Stein’s articles on water here on CJ?

    Reply
  2. William "Bill" Hicks January 22, 2014 at 9:57 am

    I’m a College Agriculture Business Major from the 70’s. Natural droughts are going to plague California periodically. There are also man made droughts caused by misinformed environmental zealots.

    Lets stick with the natural ones for the time being. We could write a book on the man made droughts. We seem to only show concern about after the fact remedies when we are in a natural drought instead of preparation for drought when we are not in one. That said, what can we do?

    Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in California, so that should be where we need to concentrate on water management techniques instead of attacking home use of water. There is a program at Cal-Poly called “irrigation auditing” that gears up a computer managed use of water. Other than for Cattle, it is a viable resource for reduction of water use. There are variables that are soil and crop dependent. May I suggest that anyone that is really interested in the proper use of water, that they look into this program. There are even some landscape applications to this program. Those that take this class are prepared for a draught before it happens.

    Reply

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