In our area, the dry soil soaked up all the rain like a sponge, even fields that had been recently irrigated. While the storm didn’t end or reverse the drought, it did put February 2014 into the “average monthly” territory precipitation-wise. The last time that happened was in December of 2012.
February will also be the first month since 2012 that we turned off our pumps, and it sure feels good. Most winters we don’t irrigate our crops at all. But when we do, we rely entirely on groundwater because no water is delivered from our primary source — Lake Berryessa — between late October and March.
During this drought a lot of coverage has focused on how low water levels are in reservoirs. But groundwater resources have been getting overused too. During wet winters, wells aren’t used at all, and water levels gradually rise. But in long droughts, the opposite occurs. Some parts of California are seeing numerous well failures as water tables dropping, and the state government has recognized the need to start monitoring and possibly regulating groundwater. In Paso Robles the county government has passed an ordinance prohibiting drilling wells for new vineyard or housing development. And in Stanislaus County, environmentalists are suing the county and a number of farmers over recently-permitted new wells.
Unlike areas further south, groundwater in Yolo and Solano County is a fairly well-managed resource. The counties have been tracking water levels for decades, and they have remained stable over the long term. But the short-term is a different story. As I mentioned a few weeks back, the well for our Minneola Tangelo orchard failed this past summer. Meanwhile, the other two wells that we use for irrigation are both producing less water than they should. Neighbors close by are reporting the same thing with their own wells.
Two weeks of rain in February probably translates into a month that groundwater pumps will stay silent — it’s still cool and most crops are dormant. And there are signs of more wet weather in the forecast. That will give groundwater tables some time to come back up before the growing season kicks into gear and pumps get turned back on.