Water: A Precious Commodity
We often take the availability of water for granted. We turn on the faucet and out comes fresh, clean, cool H2O. During times of drought, we are reminded to conserve water or to only water our lawns on certain days of the week. This may be inconvenient, but not life-threatening. Perhaps we are aware of the struggles people in third-world countries experience because of lack of safe drinking water. We may even contribute to organizations that work to improve the availability and quality of water in these distant countries. I wonder how many of us consider the amount of water needed to grow the food that we purchase and eat? Furthermore, I wonder if we ever consider how much that water costs?
Where Our Water Comes From
The water we use to irrigate our crops comes from one main source (other than the sky); the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We access this water in two ways (1) from the ground using pumps and (2) from irrigation ditches using gravity. We have three pumps on our property. These require electricity to operate. They run from 8 to 24 hours a day for several days, every other week, especially early in the season before the ditch water is available. This year we had to begin irrigating in January for the first time ever in our 33 years of farming because of the dry winter weather. The delivery of ditch water is dependent upon the amount of snow that falls on the Sierra Nevada mountains. The starting date of water varies each year as well as the ending date. Several farmers share the same ditch water, so the use is monitored and coordinated by the irrigation district personnel (ditch tenders). The ditch water is relatively inexpensive, but not always conveniently available. If we cannot get the inexpensive ditch water when we need it, we start the pumps.
Water Controversy and Politics
Who knew that water could be such a controversial issue? Actually it has been, at least here in California, for decades. Water is subject to being bought and sold. It also is brought into political wranglings between state and federal legislators. An article in the May 5, 2012 Western Farm Press (http://www.westernfarmpress.com/site-archive/201205) discusses just such a case between a local U.S. Representative and our two U.S Senators.
Water also comes into play in negotiations between farmers and environmentalists. Water for fish or for food is the argument (see commentary by Harry Cline in same issue of Western Farm Press). Again, economic factors are the center of the debate.
Water Takes Work
On the farm we do numerous things with water. We check water, we change water, we start water, we stop water, we test water, we call for water (ditch tender), we shovel water, we try not to spill water or waste water. Each row of trees has its own stand pipe. These are opened individually each time we irrigate and closed when the water in that row is done. Often only the furrow on one side of the row is irrigated at a time and the other side started when one side is finished. Our rows run east and west, so the north side may be irrigated first and the south afterward.
While the politicians and environmentalists battle over water issues, we just try to keep our trees healthy and happy so that they will produce juicy, delicious peaches and nectarines for our customers to enjoy. So, the next time you bite into a mouth-watering piece of fruit, think about the time, effort, and cost of the water that was needed to grow it.
See this link on central California water issues from a local newspaper.