Farmers describe impact of ‘zero’ CVP allocation

Facing another year with no surface water deliveries, farmers who buy water from the federal Central Valley Project expressed deep frustration with the lack of water supplies, and deep concern about what another year of water shortages will mean for their crops, employees and communities.

The CVP said last week it expects to deliver no water to most of its agricultural customers, after also allocating no water to those customers in 2014. Operators of the State Water Project, meanwhile, said Monday that it now expects to deliver 20 percent of contract amounts to its customers, up from an earlier allocation of 15 percent, citing improved runoff from winter storms. But the continued “zero” allocation from the CVP, the state’s largest supplier of irrigation water, will extend suffering in rural communities, according to California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger.

“The CVP announcement is both saddening and maddening,” Wenger said. “It’s saddening because the continued cutoff of water will prolong the impact of water shortages on farmers, their employees and rural communities. It’s maddening because there is still a struggle to manage water wisely and flexibly in California, especially in dry years.”

Farmers who buy water from the CVP system said the continued cutoff will require them to cut production and make other difficult choices. Kings County farmer Tony Azevedo said he faces a double whammy: Two-thirds of his land is served by the CVP and one-third gets supplies from the Kings River system through storage in Pine Flat Reservoir, which currently stands at about 30 percent of historical average.

“I’m cutting planted acres by 40 percent, which is all row-crop land,” Azevedo said. “We’re not growing any cantaloupes this year—the first time in more than 42 years we haven’t planted that crop. And we won’t grow beans. We’ll grow less garlic, onions and tomatoes. We’re just trying to keep our pistachio and almond trees alive.”

He said last year he couldn’t get through the growing season with the zero water allocation because of well failure late in the season.

“That’s why we’re farming fewer acres this year,” he said. “We’re not going to drill any more wells. We’re going to try and get by with what we have. I bought some surface water for this year, but it cost $1,500 an acre-foot. I’ll get it about July and August at the peak time for the nut crops.”

Azevedo said he has “run out of options.”

“My biggest concern is our employees and their families,” he said. “We’re a strong ag region and, if we can’t keep farming going in this area, everything gets shut down.” <more>

March 4, 2015 Ag Alert