It’s been a long dry season this year; the second year in a row with below average rainfall. So I wasn’t shocked to hear discussion at a local watering hole recently turn to talk of wells in the area running dry. I was a bit surprised to hear it this early in the year though — it’s not even fall yet and we have several months to go before it rains enough to allow people to turn their pumps off.
As I mention frequently in the newsletter, Terra Firm irrigates most of our crops with one of the most sustainable water supplies in California: local water from Lake Berryessa delivered via Putah Creek and the Solano Irrigation District. Even after two dry years, the Lake is still mostly full and there is no sign that water deliveries will be restricted next year even if the drought continues. In other parts of California, however, the picture is far bleaker.
Nonetheless, we do rely on groundwater pumping for part of our crops, especially citrus. All of our oranges and grapefruit come from small orchards that are irrigated using wells. One of those wells — the one in our Minneola Tangelo orchard — went dry this last week. The owners will have to drill a new, deeper well on their property, but it might not be finished in time to save this year’s crop of oranges.
Irrigation is a key component of growing summer crops in our area. But as we ramp up to begin planting for fall and winter, I always start looking for long term forecasts. Ideally, we prefer to turn the pumps off completely by Thanksgiving and let Mother Nature irrigate our greens, broccoli, leeks, carrots and other cool season crops. Clouds, fog and rain — while dreary for humans — are the best growing environment for these vegetables. They also allow the soil to rehydrate and groundwater tables to recover.
So I was cautiously optimistic today to see a long-term forecast for a mild, wet winter for California with some good soaking storms and plenty of snow. Historical statistics back this up, as it is extremely rare to have three dry winters in a row. So even if 2012 and 2013 end up being the first two years of a ten year drought, 2014 will almost certainly be wetter. Let’s hope so.