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Farmers try to help water situation

Courtesy of Jay Mahil

Although it may look like these grape vineyards are being flooded, it is quite the contrary. These vineyards are a part of a water recharge program farmers are taking a part in because of all the rain the Central Valley received earlier this month. The water is being soaked up by the ground and draining into underground aquifers.


With the heavy rainfall the Central Valley saw at the beginning of the year, Madera County farmers are dilligently working to get the water back into the soil and into the underground aquifers.

“With these major rain storms, it’s been a blessing for everyone in California,” said Jay Mahil, President of Creekside Farming that grows almonds and grapes. “This is the time that we need to utilize this water. A lot of this water is considered flood flow so it’s excess water that can’t be held back. It’s in abundance of water and it’s going to be released to the ocean if we can’t keep it in our boundaries. The growers and the irrigation districts are trying to work to keep the water within the county boundaries. Everyone is trying to urge growers to put the water onto our fields and flood our fields.”

So, while many people who are driving through Madera County can see standing water on the field and water being pumped in, it’s not because farmers are overwatering crops. They are trying to preserve that water into the aquifers.

“People may be thinking we’re wasting water,” Mahil said. “We’re preserving that water to push it down into our aquifer that will later be pumped by our growers and municipalities to be used in the summer months. This is the ideal time to use this water and bank the water to our aquifer. We’re flood irrigating our vineyards and turning on our pumps to keep our fields wet. We want to put as much water into the ground as possible to use it at a later time.”

Also, some may think that the drought is over because of the amount of rain that fell in early January. Mahil points out that most of it is already soaked up because of how dry the soil was before the storms.

“It’s going to take more than a year of stuff like this to get out of the drought,” he said. “The ground is still dry. If you drive around, there’s not a lot of water standing in the field. It’s all getting sucked down. The trees and the vines aren’t drinking it. It shows how dry the ground is. It’s sucking the water down to the core.”

One of the prettiest sites that Mahil saw was a photo of Eastman Lake filled up. He knows water will be released and farmers can get it to help their own water situation.

“My wife and I drove up to Eastman Lake in early December,” he said. “It was bare dry. Someone sent me a picture and it’s getting close to the height of the dam. In a month, we were able to do that. That’s the thing about California weather, it’s feast or famine. Our reservoirs are only built for so much. We’re pinned up against the wall that when those reservorirs fill up, they need to release it because there’s more water behind it that will fill it back up. The only way to empty it is to send it to the ocean, which is wasteful. People have made recharge basins in farmlands and within the city to hold all of this water so it can be percolated back into the ground to the aquifer.”

Although Mahil, and other farmers, were overjoyed to see so much rain fall in the Central Valley, he does feel for people with property damage.

“We want wet rain coming, but we want it in a safe manner,” he said. “Rain can never be an inconvenience for farmers even though there’s water left in the fields and job tasks still to do in the field. Without this water, those job tasks don’t mean anything. None of that is going to matter if we don’t have water to irrigate those fields. Those jobs can be held off to a later date. Fields may not look as pristine as they used to, but that’s the least of our worries.”

Despite the water falling on the fields, Mahil states that it’s too early to tell if his almond and grape crops will have a good season.

“It’s a little too early to predict the harvest,” he said. “The rule of thumb is the wet year are the better crop years. The reason for that is we get to leech all the salts and contaminates out of the soil. We have fresh, clean soil for roots to get nourished in. Wet years give us more canal water so we’ll have fresh water to irrigate our fields, so that helps the yield out. Wetter years tend to have longer water seasons so we keep our crops healthier and greener. That tends to have a better crop. That’s what we’re looking forward to. There’s a lot of farming time left from here to harvest. Almonds will be coming into bloom in the next month. Last year, we had a lot of cold weather during and after bloom time, so it caused a lot of freeze damage. We’re not out of the woodworks to say we’re going to have a good crop. There’s still a lot of hurdles to get over to say we’re going to have a good crop this year.”

Mahil recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong and India. When he left, the ground was dry, but forecasts showed that the rain was coming. He was cautiously optimistic about the rain, but was glad to see it come.

“I left on December 26 and it was supposed to start raining on the 27th,’ he said. “I heard the rain was coming, but they weren’t talking about the atmospheric river, yet. The first rain was good, but it wasn’t like the ones after that that dumped water. We’ll take it. It’s a blessing. I go places and people say they can’t wait for it to dry out. I don’t want anyone to have property damage, but I wish it would stay wet. We’ve had enough dry.

“It’s a totally different world coming back. I came back to wet fields and beautiful white-cap mountains. It was beautiful to see. Every day, I was 13-and-a-half hours ahead and was reading news articles of how much rain and water we got. Everyone is asking what I was doing. I was on vacation, but I had to keep track of what was at home. It was just jaw-dropping to see. Mother Nature gave us a nice New Year’s present.”


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