June 2, 2014

The Water Pinch

Your Farm in Photos - The Water Pinch
The farm in 1976

The year that keeps coming up in the farming world about the water situation is 1976. For our farm, the last time the canal didn’t open up was in 1976. The one tangible piece of data that could be used to make a prediction about how much water will be in the creek and how long wells will hold out for is what happened in 1976. I was not yet born in 1976, and the piece of farm land that my parents were farming (ironically, 1976 was the year our farm was founded) was small and fed entirely by a small ground water well that had enough water to get us through the year.

Your Farm in Photos - The Water Pinch
Cache Creek on the farm.

For my kids, I started a “Water Log” in my journal for this year.  In it, I am keeping track of the details. The most significant detail this year is that the canal was able to take care of our water needs until May 15th after which point it went dry. Cache Creek is currently holding out for us, but the neighbor across the way who is farming 220 acres of olives and is completely dependent upon canal water moved his pumps into Cache Creek last week. It is hard for me to picture the creek having enough water for both of us through the entire summer.

Your Farm in Photos - The Water Pinch
Irrigation pipes

The farm has a set of ground water wells that we have historically not had to use. The other issue is that the wells are not in the best of locations, some of them are sitting in the middle of fields that we have elected to fallow due to the water shortage (we reduced our farmed acreage by 70 acres this year). The challenge is that it’s a lot of pipe needed to move the water from the various wells to all of the fields that need the water.

Your Farm in Photos - The Water Pinch
Water pump
The good news is that we have options. We sit on top of a healthy aquifer of water that got most farmers through 1976 and will do the same for our farm today — all we have to do it access the water. I sat down and made a water budget for the summer, looking at the crops we have committed to, historical weather patterns and added it all up. In the month of July, our farm will need about 15.7 acre-feet of water per week. If we ran our pumps six days per week, 12 hours per day, they would need to generate 1,187 gallons of water per minute. If we ran the pumps seven days per week, 18 hours per day, we would need 678 gallons per minute. Without the creek, I have a total of 525 gallons per minute of water in my wells.

Your Farm in Photos - The Water Pinch
Drilling a new well.

So, time to drill some new wells. On average, wells on our farm yield 100-200 gallons per minute (wells are about 250 feet deep). I need to develop another 300 gallons per minute, and I need to get that water from one end of the farm to the other. We just finished installing large, buried pipe and as you read this, I have three new wells being drilled. Well drillers are so busy that most of them will tell you they are booked out until December — we have been lucky to get this guy out. Cross your fingers for 300 gpm!