Jim Firth: When the well runs dry
When my wife and I moved to Grass Valley six-plus years ago, we immediately began improvements on our property. Landscaping was part of the improvement package and along with a freshly planted front-scape, we chose to put a relatively small lawn (about 1,200 square feet) in the back area off the deck.
This work required removing rock, various pipes, moving the “red” dirt so prolific around here, and bringing in soil and sod.
This was the first time either of us enjoyed in our own home the look, feel and, in particular after mowing, the smell of fresh grass. Such was the life of many city dwellers prior to moving to the “country.”
In 2014, we stopped watering the lawn. In March 2015, we tore it out. Such is the life of many country dwellers when the water runs low.
In July of 2014, I wrote an opinion (Other Voices) column for The Union newspaper entitled “Water is the new gold.” It stated in part, “On June 6, 2014 a workshop on water in Nevada County included representatives from Nevada Irrigation District, Nevada County Board of Supervisors, Grass Valley, Truckee, and Nevada City, along with lawyers, planners, and maybe six ‘citizens.’” The presentation was disturbing. Climate change is real; the projections are for less snowpack, more severe rainfall, higher average temperatures, longer summers with less rain, and a toxic cleanup that will be challenging for years to come. We’re still waiting for the more severe rainfall.
Until then, serious measures will be required. Gov. Jerry Brown has instituted a 25 percent reduction in water use for city and town residents throughout California. Part of his rationale is that farmers and agribusiness have already suffered serious hardship during the first three years of the current drought, and that the “voluntary” reduction for city water users has not slowed water consumption enough to offset the drought conditions everyone is experiencing.
Gov. Brown needs to hear more from city and town residents. Mega-farmers and agribusiness already have their lobbyists. I took out our lawn — good for me. My issue is agribusiness, not small family farms, which own hundreds, or even thousands of acres of almond orchards and are not being forced to use best practices in producing their crop. Almond crops are one of the highest users of water. They’re profitable for agribusiness, but honestly, how many Almond Joy candy bars do we really need?
Blue Diamond, a cooperative formed in 1910 and currently owned by about half of California’s almond growers, has taken the lead in developing market demand for almonds in the U.S. and overseas. “An agricultural juggernaut,” almonds have become a $4 billion industry and California’s No. 1 agriculture export in dollar terms in less than a decade, as Blue Diamond President and CEO Mark Jansen told the Sacramento Bee. There are other crops that use copious amounts of water, and they too need to follow best practices. On-site water storage and drip system irrigation will ease the need for wells and reduce waste. Western Nevada County doesn’t possess the aquifer storage ability that Truckee and much of the rest of rural California enjoys. The water in western Nevada County comes from rainfall and melting snowpack. We haven’t seen much of either in the last six months or three years.
I would like to store water in barrels (when it does rain) to use for irrigation of my vegetable yard and fruit trees (we usually give pears, peaches, figs and tomatoes to our friends and neighbors). I would really like Gov. Brown (call 916-445-2841) to pay for my rain barrels. At least give me a rebate on purchase and installation of a roof run-off reclaimed water system. Or maybe those taxpayers who live in urban Southern California can foot the bill. I guess I need to talk to my State Assemblyman Brian Dahle (call 916-319-2001) or State Senator Ted Gaines (call 916-651-4001) to see if they can help me. I didn’t vote for either of them, but using California taxpayer dollars to save water seems like a good idea. Everyone can call them today.
While I’m at it, I’ll mention that they could also do more to force agribusiness to do what’s right for California, not just for their stockholders. How about allocating agricultural water based upon best practices for crop irrigation? Something needs to be done before the well runs dry.
Jim Firth lives in Grass Valley. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not endorsed by any organization.
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