Last Wednesday we were thrilled to wake to the sound of steady raindrops that brought us almost half an inch of rain over four hours. The first rain of fall is always welcome around here after our normally long, hot and dusty summer. But summer of 2014 has essentially been in effect since January, so the dust was that much deeper and the cleansing effects of the rain, that much more noticeable.
California is in bad shape. Sure, folks in the city and suburbs may still get water when they turn on the tap or the shower. But out here in the country, things are getting desperate. Terra Firma is lucky to get most of our water from a reservoir that is still fairly full. But all around Winters, and throughout the Central Valley, wells are failing as water tables drop lower each week.
It’s not just that it didn’t rain much less winter. It’s also that it has been warm and dry now for most of 18 months, and our “wet season” last winter really only lasted four or five weeks. The weather phenomena responsible — a persistent ridge of high pressure over the eastern Pacific ocean — appears to have gotten stuck in a feedback loop. Warm, dry weather reinforces the high pressure, which in turn creates more warm, dry weather. The ocean off the coast of California has also been affected, and is now at a record high temperature. This further reinforces the drought.
A few months back there was talk of a big El Nino coming to end the drought this winter. Many meteorologists have reversed their predictions and are now predicting that the drought will continue. Climate change appears to be playing a very dramatic role. This year has been the warmest year in California since 1895.
At Terra Firma –perhaps ironically — we still have plenty of water during the summer, when we irrigate the vast majority of our fields with water from Lake Berryessa. The spigot for that water is shut off each year at some point in the fall. But in twenty years, we haven’t had to irrigate much — or at all — in the winter. So the fact that the two wells that we use during that time are old has never been much of a concern to us. Last year was the first time we had to run those wells all winter long. After several months of pumping, both were producing less water. One of them has now failed completely, as the water table dropped below the level of the pump.
Drilling a new well is an expensive and risky proposition. But right now it’s not even an option for us — well drillers have an enormous backlog of work and waitlists are a year or longer. So we have made some hard decisions and are limiting our planting to the amount of acres we can irrigate with the other pump.
Mostly though, we are doing what farmers have done for millenia, and what every other farmer in California is doing right now — wishing, hoping and even praying for more than a few short weeks of wet weather this year.