From the Farms: Water Stories

We always have to conserve water, especially in drought years. We only irrigate the trees for about their first five years. In the 1970s drought, some trees died in our upper orchard. Our water comes from a neighbor’s spring that we have water rights to, and from a 60-foot well we dug ten years ago. We only pump about three gallons a minute in summer. Recently, a neighbor planted five or ten acres of grapes, which use lots of water. They dug a well about a half-mile above us last year, and we get less water now.
— <I>Bob Bernstein, apple farmer,  Pomo Tierra Ranch, Mendocino County</I>

We pump our water from Cache Creek, which comes from a reservoir and from Clear Lake. The water has boron and mercury in it. The boron leaches naturally from rocks. Some crops, especially walnuts and beans, don’t grow well with boron. However, the high biomatter content of our soil, from all the compost we add, buffers these problems. The mercury comes from the Superfund site upstream, from old gold mines. Mercury doesn’t get absorbed by the plants, but it flows directly into the Delta and bioaccumulates in fish in San Francisco Bay.
— <I>Judith Redmond, vegetable and fruit farmer, Full Belly Farm, Yolo County</I>

I’m the only farmer using water from a 20-acre lake owned by my local irrigation district. Recently a developer wanted to build houses next to the lake and buy all the water from the district. I had to plead my case with the directors. I was able to talk them out of selling my water. Political action works.
— <I>Carl Rosato, peach grower,  Woodleaf Farm, Butte County</I>

I’ve been growing about 20 acres of grapes near Selma since 1976. The water table has gone down about ten feet over 30 years, to about 105 feet. A few years ago the EPA collapsed my 150 foot well, although they won’t admit to it. They passed a law that all underground gas tanks had to be removed because of possible leaks. I had an old abandoned 300-pound gas tank in the ground. You or I could have dug around it, put a hose in the hole, and floated it up in half an hour. They made me hire an EPA approved contractor who came out with huge semis and a big backhoe. They compacted the ground so hard they collapsed my well, 15 feet away. That night my pump pumped up 20 tons of sand, filling all my irrigation lines. Some of my grapes dried out and the new well cost me $18,000. We drilled down 250 feet this time, and the water’s good.
— <I>Jim Schmidt, grape grower,  Schmidt Family Farm, Fresno County</I>

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