SAN BENITO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA (KION) After years of drought — and an unusually dry start to this year — farmers in San Benito County will not be able to get water from some of California’s largest reservoirs this year.
San Benito County draws water from three sources: the federally administered Central Valley project, the local groundwater basin, and a small amount of reclaimed or recycled water. But this will be the second year in a row that the county has not received federal funding.
“We had to adjust and rely more on other sources. For us, it was groundwater,” said Richard Bianchi, San Benito County Farm Bureau board member and area manager for Hollister Sabor Farms. “The problem with our groundwater in San Benito County is that the quality is not as good as our federal water.”
But San Benito County Water District (SBCWD) general manager Jeff Cattaneo said groundwater isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
“There are areas that don’t have enough groundwater, or the groundwater quality is not good enough, that they can’t use it,” Cataneo said.
Farmers in the county and across the state have had to factor water scarcity into their crop patterns.
“About 25 percent of the land that is normally irrigated may end up fallow,” Cattaneo said.
“Honestly, we’re only in March. So yeah, that might be it. It might be that much. There might be more,” Bianchi added.
Last year, Cattaneo said he decided to release about 8,000 acre-feet of water the county had stored in local reservoirs for growers.
“If I had stored it in a reservoir, I would have lost a lot of water to evaporation and seepage. So I chose to deliver it last year and everyone could use it as much as possible. Then we prayed and hoped” there will be more Good things happen. But it doesn’t. “It may take two or three years for them to get back to a really healthy position,” Cattaneo said. “
The option to buy water from the rest of the state doesn’t work during a statewide drought.
“Usually there are water utilities north of Sacramento, north of the Delta, and they provide water. Last year I spent about $2.5 million on extra water, which wasn’t cheap. But [this year] I may not be able to get any water from them. It’s like the first time this has ever happened, they’ve been cut so much that they probably don’t have any water to sell,” Cattaneo added.
But the water issue isn’t the only problem plaguing California farmers — high gas prices are being felt too, and it’s all going to end up in consumers’ pockets.
Bianchi said he and other farmers even stole fuel from their gas tanks.
“The price of fuel just went up, I mean, it’s almost double what it was a year ago? Less water means we can produce less crops. And it’s more expensive for us to grow those crops because of the fuel. Much more, and it costs more to truck them to the store. Anywhere in the food chain, it adds to the cost. So I’d be surprised if it wasn’t passed on to the consumer,” Bianchi said.
It may not just be farmers who are affected. SBCWD also supplies water to the City of Hollister, the Sunnyslope County Water District, and soon to San Juan Bautista.
“At this point, I’m going to get at least some water for my city customers. But the federal government is even looking at pulling it back and making it zero, which has never happened before,” Cattaneo said.
The water district also plans to enforce 20 percent savings for those customers, Cattaneo said.
However, the rest of the year hasn’t gotten much rain in California…is there a fix?
“The only way we’re going to get back to having healthy groundwater basins and a healthy water supply for everyone is to build more cisterns to collect water in those wet years. You can’t save the way out of this problem,” Cattaneo said.