In California, every drop of water counts. It's an issue that has loomed over the state for decades, and it continues to cause concern as residents look to the future.
“Ensuring a water supply that can meet the needs of urban, agricultural, and environmental uses will be California's biggest challenge in the twenty-first century,” says Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director for the California Water Alliance.
Founded in 2009 by 15 Central Valley farmers and agribusiness men and women, the California Water Alliance is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. It was formed to achieve both short-term relief and a long-term solution to California's water emergency.
Part of that urgency is focused on ensuring that the state's ag community has enough water to grow crops.
“We advocate for an equitable and reliable water supply for all. No one water user should be sacrificed for the sake of the other two. And no two should be sacrificed for the sake of one,” says Bettencourt. “It's about looking at new technology and at balanced approaches, and demanding we use the best possible resources we have available in order to provide for all three.”
Seeking a solution
For Errotabere Ranches in Riverdale, California, improving irrigation management is driven by both the water shortage and the higher cost of water.
“We needed to do more with less on all of the resources we use,” says Daniel Errotabere. “There is a strong need to utilize technology, and it has become a more critical component in the operation.”
He and his brothers, Jean and Remi, grow almonds, pistachios, pomegranates, processing garlic, processing tomatoes, garbanzo beans, wheat, cantaloupe, and pima cotton across 5,000 acres.
“Since we're farming in a federal irrigation project, the water available in a given year has some limitations to the weather cycles that we go through but also the environmental restrictions to conveying that water,” Errotabere explains. “Last year was a wet year, and we had 80% of our contract supplied. This year, it's 40%. That's because we had a tremendous carryover of water from the prior year. If we have another dry year like this one, we could be in the 20% range or less.”
The variability of the water supply means the operation has to stretch the supply as much as possible to deal not only with the low allocation but also with the possibility of having to buy water from other districts when theirs is short.
“The costs for the allocated water will range from $100 to $120 an acre-foot,” says Errotabere. “The lighter the year, the higher the cost. And the wetter the year, the lower the cost. If we go out on the market to buy water from another district, it ranges from $200 and $400 per acre-foot.”
In the last five years, the family has incorporated GPS technology into its operation to better manage water and offset costs.
“We're fortunate to have the technology to stretch every drop as far as we can,” he notes.