|STOP THE SALT, SAVE OUR JOBS
A "White Paper" on Pajaro Valley water issues
Prepared by the Research Office of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO
Preface: Conservation Key to Sustainable Agriculture
Five years ago, a group of state and federal agencies were asked to resolve ecological disasters building within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. These government agencies form the CalFed Bay-Delta program, along with the Bay-Delta Advisory Committee, a consortium of representatives from agriculture, the environment and water agencies.
CalFed has proposed various alternatives to resolving the Bay-Delta crisis. It has chosen one alternative as its preferred action. This Preferred Alternative is currently the subject of public hearings. At the hearings, various interest groups have expressed concerns about the Preferred Alternative and its environmental impact report that is supposed to expose the likely affects the Preferred Alternative would have on various entities and interest groups.
Conservation is key in all water management models. The Preferred Alternative includes a Water Use Efficiency Program that would implement greater conservation in urban and rural communities. Conservation is the first step in resolving two critical water problems facing Californians: salinity and water shortages. Salinity is largely caused by overdraft pumping, or pumping too much water out of the system. Therefore, salinity and water shortages can both be minimized through conservation.
Measure K, a United Farm Workers-sponsored initiative on the Nov. 3, 1998 ballot, was approved by voters in the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency. It requires greater emphasis on conservation in solving serious salt water intrusion in the coastal basin around Watsonville. More importantly, Measure K gives farm workers and other rural residents a greater voice in water use and acquisition.
The UFW has done more than advocate for conservation. The union has also been active in recent CalFed hearings held in Salinas and Visalia to alert all the parties that growers are not the only ones who would suffer from an unreliable agricultural water supply. The United Farm Workers strongly supports sustainable agriculture, especially when conditions for working conditions in the agricultural industry dramatically improve through mutually-productive collective bargaining relationships between growers and farm workers.
This UFW White Paper was presented to the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency on Sept. 15, 1999 in hopes the agency and public bodies like it will realize the inevitable necessity of conservation to achieve a reliable water supply and to solve salinity problems.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A New Look at Water
November of this year will mark the first year after the people of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency District supported the strong voter mandate for conservation and an end to overdraft. Water management entered a new era with the passage of Measure K.
We are living on the edge of a water crisis in the Pajaro Valley. We use almost twice as much water as our basin can provide. The state has the power to severely ration our water use if we don’t bring our water use in line with our available supply. As an agricultural community, we want to avoid the mandatory fallowing of land. Farmers, farm workers and agriculture-related industry all share this interest. In order to protect agricultural land and thousands of farm worker jobs, we must do two things: halt seawater intrusion and end overdraft. If we fail to act now, we could face permanent environmental damage and the loss of local control.
A year ago the PVWMA chose to move forward with a $36-$38 million set of three projects that will bring water to select areas of the coast and help begin the recharge of our depleted aquifer. Unless alternative funding sources are discovered, financing these projects will absorb most of the agency’s budget for the next 30 years. The local projects were intended to provide 10,000 acre-feet of water a year. It now appears that substantially less water will be developed and that the cost of each element of the projects is on the rise. Currently, our water deficit is 28,000 acre-feet, and this is predicted to increase another 10,000 over the coming years. The local project is not enough. But it is a start.
With the voter approval of Measures D and K in 1998, the PVWMA is now required to:
End overdraft by 2013
To date, the water agency has focused on increasing the water supply, both within the district and by planning to import water from the Central Valley. The Agency’s Basin Management Plan is built around an import pipeline although the voters have twice shown deep reservations about this project. Before we look outside the district for solutions, we need to understand what is happening within the Pajaro Valley Water Management district. This report examines how we use water, and what the community and the water agency can do to reduce our water use. As a community, we enjoy one of the most beautiful areas in the country, with its fertile soils, coastal climate, and abundant agriculture. We are also faced with some of the most severe water problems in the state. Its time we take action to protect our future.
This report provides an overview of the problems of overdraft and seawater intrusion that plague the Pajaro Valley. We have broken down the major water users into Agriculture, Industry and Residential groupings, and then further into the major water-intensive crops that use most of the area’s groundwater. By examining the water use and irrigation practices of vegetable crops, strawberries, raspberries and the major non-agricultural sectors, we are able to offer each group suggestions on how to begin conserving water. Each use profile is followed by a series of suggestions for the user group and the report ends with a series of policy recommendations for the PVWMA. While this report does not offer a comprehensive solution to bringing the basin into balance, it takes the first step – educating residents, workers, growers, elected officials, regulators and others about the problem. Only by reaching out to a broader community can we hope to solve the crisis we face.
Summary of Findings
I. The Pajaro Valley is facing a water crisis which threatens thousands of acres of prime agricultural land and up to 5,800 jobs.
On an average year we pump more than twice the amount of water that this basin can safely yield. As the overdraft continues, seawater intrusion worsens. Well water is being contaminated so that some coastal wells can no longer be used for drinking water or for irrigating crops.
The problems of salt water intrusion and overdrafting the basin have been recognized for decades. The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency was created 15 years ago in order to deal with these problems. To date, no project has increased the water supply.
If we do not end overdraft and stop the salt from contaminating well water, farms along the coast may be forced to close and thousands of jobs could be lost.
II. Analysis of Water Use and Recommendations for Conservation by Sector
Between 1966 and 1989, water use has risen dramatically. Agricultural water use accounts for approximately 76 percent of the total amount drawn from the basin’s wells. The increase in agricultural water use over this time period is more than the amount used by all other water users combined.
Our crops can be irrigated more efficiently. 54 out of the 72 growers evaluated by the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency’s Mobile-Lab received a rating of fair or poor, corresponding to an irrigation efficiency below 80%.
While local crops are grown by a large number of people, a great deal can be accomplished if a handful of the largest growers alter their irrigation systems. Together, these growers could conserve thousands of acre-feet of water each year.
Vegetables also use approximately 20,000 acre-feet (a.f.)* of water, more than any other category, though less than berries on an acre by acre basis. Basic changes in irrigation practices can make a substantial difference to the water basin.
Because strawberries are extremely sensitive to salt, this crop is very vulnerable to seawater intrusion. Growers and workers alike have a mutual interest in stemming water waste in order to preserve agricultural land and jobs for the future.
Raspberries are among the most water intensive major crop in the Pajaro Valley with many growers using over a million gallons of water for each acre on an average year. Basic changes in irrigation practices can make a substantial difference to the water basin.
Vegetable, strawberry and raspberry production is dominated by a small number of large growers. Farms controlled by 30 to 40 individuals use half of the basin’s water. If these individuals adopted a conservation program that saved even 10 percent of the water they use, they could save thousands of acre-feet of water.
Residential, commercial and industrial water use make up roughly 20 percent of the total amount of water used in the Valley. Reclamation, the capturing of surface water and conservation offer hopes of significant improvement in water management in these sectors.
III. Policy Recommendations; Moving Towards Sustainable Water Use
According to water agency documents, conservation can yield 9,000 acre-feet. Nonetheless, the PVWMA has failed to make conservation a priority. The PVWMA currently allows inefficient water use as well as late and non-payment of augmentation fees and has failed to enforce requirements to destroy abandoned wells. The PVWMA has sought alter county policies so that they would permit increased well pumping without environmental review. These practices must be changed. The report outlines key elements that should be included in the agency’s required conservation program including infrastructure, incentives and disincentive structures to encourage compliance, and innovative programs that have helped other California water districts.
While all water users in each category analyzed can reduce their water use, the PVWMA should focus its efforts on reducing the use of the largest, most intensive water consumers if it wants to see conservation make a big difference. An individual grower can use as much as several thousand households in any given year. It is only logical that individuals who use more than 100 acre-feet of water per year should be the first to participate in a conservation program.
A conservation program will only be effective if compliance is ensured and enforced. A system of incentives to make major cuts in water use, and disincentives or penalties for failure to meet conservation goals will be necessary to make conservation work for everyone.
Facing the Water Crisis
The Pajaro Valley’s water basin is in a state of severe overdraft. The groundwater which we depend upon for municipal and industrial use, as well as agricultural irrigation is being pumped out of the reservoirs faster than nature can return it. As a result, the levels of well water throughout the Valley are dropping and seawater from the Monterey Bay has begun to contaminate the basin’s water supply.
Seawater intrusion was first detected in the Pajaro Valley as early as the 1950’s . The problem has worsened in recent years through the addition of irrigated acreage throughout the Valley and the conversion of orchards to more water intensive crops. Seawater intrusion threatens to take thousands of agricultural acres out of production and eliminate thousands of farm worker jobs. As pumping increases, so does seawater intrusion (See Chart 1). Current pumping levels are approximately 68,000 a.f. a year. As a result over 9,000 acre-feet of seawater are moving into the basin on an average year.
Chart 1. Too much pumping results in seawater intrusion
The Valley faces a series of important choices regarding its use of water. It will take a comprehensive approach that considers all potential solutions, while also educating the public about the costs and benefits of different approaches.
The problem is large, and it cannot be solved by any single program. One of the most cost-effective and promising ways to stop seawater intrusion is through conservation. Conservation is the least expensive, the most environmentally sound and the most sustainable long-term solution. In addition to reducing water use, conservation helps keep nitrates and pesticides out of our surface and groundwater.
While conservation is a responsibility that rests on the entire community, it is important that the individuals and industries which use the most of the Valley’s water be particularly vigilant in their conservation efforts. Agriculture uses roughly 76 percent of the Valley’s groundwater. Moreover, though there are hundreds of growers in the Pajaro Valley, agriculture is dominated by a few dozen large growers who use the lion’s share of the resources. If there is ever to be real change in the water use patterns of the Valley, these large growers must be the community leaders in pioneering conservation efforts.
From Historical Problem to Ongoing Crisis.
Over 95 percent of the water used in the Pajaro Valley comes from well water. With the current pumping patterns including the use of coastal wells, roughly 31,000 a.f. of water can be safely pumped without a significant inflow of seawater from Monterey Bay. Unfortunately, agricultural use alone has long exceeded the safe yield of the basin. The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency’s most recent internal documents indicate that there are 30,120 acres under irrigation with an estimated total water demand of roughly 52,200 a.f.. The largest 10% of vegetable, strawberry and raspberry growers alone use roughly 31,000 a.f. annually. There are several reasons why agricultural water use has increased in the past 30 years.
Between 1966 and 1983 approximately 5,000 acres within the Valley have been converted to farm land and irrigated.
Charts 2 and 3. Orchard acreage has plummeted While the strawberry acreage has expanded. Each acre of strawberries pumps up to four times as much water as an acre of apples.
As a result of these trends, agricultural water use has increased 17,500 acre-feet between 1966 and 1989. The same period has shown a slow increase in municipal water reflecting an increase in the population of the Pajaro Valley. Chart 4 shows that the increase in agricultural water use alone is greater than the amount of water used by all other sectors.
Chart 4. Agricultural water use has risen greatly over the past 30 years.
The current state of overdraft threatens some areas more than others; coastal areas bear the brunt of the impact of district-wide pumping, but we all stand to lose. If major steps are not taken, coastal farms may close, thousands of acres of productive land may be lost and as many as 5,800 jobs may disappear. Many coastal wells are already contaminated with salt, making several of them unusable for drinking water or irrigation. Strawberries are one of the most salt-sensitive of major local crops [see Chart 5]. Strawberry growers therefore have the most to gain by helping stop seawater intrusion by reducing overdraft. Farmers and harvesters alike share a mutual interest in protecting the land and the fruit from salt contamination. While strawberries currently thrive in coastal lands, they must be grown with an eye to the future; they must be grown sustainably.
Chart 5. As salt (chlorides) contaminates irrigation water, crop yields suffer.
Understanding Current Water Use
Water Use in the Pajaro Valley
Overdraft is a Valley-wide problem, but pumping along the coast has an immediate impact on seawater intrusion, as salt water moves inland to fill the vacuum. By shifting pumping patterns away from the coast and moving water from inland areas to the coast for irrigation and residential use, studies show that we can increase the sustainable yield of the basin by 40%, or almost 20,000 acre feet. Local supply projects are needed to produce the water which can be pumped to the coast. This transition should be made as soon as possible so that we can focus on using water in the most efficient way possible.
Efficiency should be the guiding principle for the Valley’s water management, the PVWMA, each water using sector from industry to agriculture, and each individual water user.
In order to encourage efficient water use, we have completed an analysis of each of the major water users: commercial, industrial, urban and residential use and the three largest crops which make up the bulk of agricultural production in the Pajaro Valley. Chart 5 provides a comparison of the comparative use of each of the major water-using sectors.
Chart 5. Comparison of Water Use by Sector
The most recent studies indicate that agriculture uses roughly 76 percent of the basin’s water or roughly 52,000 acre-feet. A detailed analysis of growing patterns with the Pajaro Valley indicates that for all significant crops, there are a few large growers that dominate production as well as the use of agricultural land and water. Raspberries, strawberries and vegetables are the three largest crops in terms of water use in the Pajaro Valley. Combined, these three crops use 45,000 acre-feet of water? more than 85 percent of the total agricultural use and almost two thirds of total water use in the Valley. While hundreds of growers farm these crops, the bulk of the acreage, and thus the water use for each of these crops, is controlled by a total of roughly thirty large growers. Even minor changes in irrigation practices could help restore the balance between water supply and demand. Table 1 compares the use of major water using sectors in the Pajaro Valley and highlights water-intensive crops which are controlled by relatively few individuals.
TABLE 1. Summary of Water Use by Sector
*For the purposes of this report, we have assumed average water use patterns for the large and small growers alike, within each crop and use category. Average water use per crop is characterized in the PVWMA’s 1998 Crop Water Use Study.
It is important to acknowledge that there are a variety of factors which can influence a grower’s water use. Some are within a grower’s control and some are not. Throughout the Valley growers face a variety of microclimates and soil types, which in addition to plant variety and plant density can greatly alter a grower’s water needs.
The next sections of the report examine the water use trends for each of the major groups of water users. Each use profile is followed by a number of suggestions on how each group can reduce their water use. Growers, workers, residents, food processors, industrial users, the city and the PVWMA can all play a productive role by helping to turn this situation around.
Estimated Yearly Water Use: 20,507 acre-feet
Percentage of Total Basin Demand: 30.1%
Local vegetable crops include a wide range of commodities such as leaf and head lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes. Unlike raspberries and strawberries, it is typical for vegetables to be double or triple cropped– that is for there to be two or three plantings of vegetable crops on the same land in a given year. In 1998 the PVWMA released a Crop Water Use Study. Vanessa Bogenholm, a local strawberry grower working under contract with the PVWMA compiled the report over the previous four years. This study calculates the average water use by vegetable crops to be 1.96 acre-feet per acre. This is not a value for a single crop, rather it is an average for one acre assuming that this acre is farmed with the typical cropping patterns within the Valley. Cropping pattern variation can result in a wide range of water demands. In the Springfield region, for example 30% of farms surveyed use fewer than 1.5 a.f. while 20% use more than 3 a.f.
According to the crop water use study, there are slightly more than 10,000 acres of vegetables in the Valley and vegetables consume slightly more than 20,000 acre-feet of water– more than all industrial and residential water use in the Valley combined.
The fact that vegetables can be double and triple cropped, compounded with different reporting systems in Santa Cruz and Monterey County makes it difficult to obtain an accurate assessment of the number of vegetable acres farmed or even the ratio of size between two vegetable growers. Despite this, it is clear from examinations of pesticide use permit data, that of the roughly 120 vegetable growers in the Valley, the largest 10 percent– 12 growers? farm over four times as much as the combined production of the remaining 108 growers (see Chart 6).
Chart 6 Vegetable Production in the Pajaro Valley is controlled by a limited number of large growers
On average each of these large vegetable growers use nearly 1,000 acre-feet of water– the water use of roughly 5,000 residents. Some growers use much more.
Vegetables; the potential to make a difference
Three central tenets guide conservation practices in irrigation: uniformity, delivering water directly to the root system, and proper scheduling. Together, reaching these goals will ensure the most efficient use of water possible while meeting the needs of the crop in its particular setting (soil type and microclimate).
Vegetable growers can accomplish a great deal of conservation through relatively simple steps. Many vegetable growers continue to irrigate with sprinkler systems, although conversion to drip irrigation can save significantly more water. Growers that continue to sprinkle should avoid sprinkling at high noon, when a significant amount of the water evaporates before reaching the plants. In Arizona, growers that irrigate during the day are fined for wasting water in such an easily avoidable way.
Those growers that do use drip irrigation should use one drip line for each row of vegetables, particularly if farming in heavier soils. Growers using drip irrigation should continually examine their fields for wet spots indicating leaks in the drip lines and should repair these leaks immediately. Leaking pipes and drip tape waste water and can create a hazard for workers who can slip and fall in the mud. All irrigators should be trained to use tensiometers to measure moisture in soil. Tensiometers cost roughly $30 and are easy to use, but too often growers don’t know how to use them. Growers should also level their fields on a regular basis in order to increase irrigation uniformity and reduce overall water use.
The PVWMA must do additional work to provide local vegetable growers with the tools that they need for conservation. The Crop Water Use Study, the PVWMA’s most recent and thorough document on agricultural water use in the Valley, does not provide a great deal of guidance for vegetable growers. The document averages all vegetable growers, regardless of crop type or number of plantings. The PVWMA must work to provide growers with accurate estimates of the water needs of specific vegetable crops in specific regions. In addition, the PVWMA should conduct trainings to further the use of Evapo Transpiration (ET) data for irrigation scheduling. ET data can provide extremely accurate information about the actual water needs of a crop given irrigation efficiency, soil type and weather data. The PVWMA should work to bring additional weather stations into the Valley so that weather data in all of the Valley’s microclimates is available.
Estimated Water Use: 20,034 acre-feet
Percentage of Total Basin Demand: 29.5%
Watsonville is known as the strawberry capital of the world, and indeed one third of the nation’s strawberries come from the Pajaro Valley. As shown above, [Chart 3] Santa Cruz county strawberry acreage has increased steadily for the past 40 years. This is indicative of the trend in the greater Pajaro Valley where strawberry acreage has been between 6,500 and 7,000 acres in recent years.
The PVWMA’s Crop Water Use Study states that strawberries use an average of of 2.86 acre-feet of water per acre each year. Strawberry growers use roughly 20,000 acre-feet of water a year. This is nearly one-third of total water demand and almost equal to the water use of vegetable crops.
Chart 7. There are 103 strawberry growers in the Valley. The top ten growers are as large as the remaining 93 combined.
Assuming average production techniques, the top ten growers strawberry growers each use an average of 1,000 acre-feet of water annually. Average use may even exceed this estimate as many of the premier growers maintain large fields off of San Juan road where PVWMA data shows some of the most intensive water use by grower. As with large vegetable growers, an individual berry grower is often responsible for the same amount of water that can supply several thousand households for a year. This is a huge amount of water for an individual user to be withdrawing from a severely overdrafted basin, and every effort must be made to ensure that the water is being used responsibly and efficiently.
Strawberries: Towards Efficient Water Use
An examination of the crop water use study indicates that there is huge potential for water conservation in strawberries. In every region studied, at least one in four of the growers surveyed used less that 2.5 a.f. of water, yet in each region a substantial percentage of growers using more than 3.0 a.f. In the San Juan region 40 percent of growers used more than 3.0 a.f., in the San Andreas region, approximately 50 percent of growers were above 3.0 a.f.
Strawberry growers can take a number of concrete steps to greatly reduce water use. Full-field plastic mulching, where the entire field is covered with plastic tarp for the duration of the season, can save as much as one acre-foot per acre. According to PVWMA staff, roughly half of strawberry growers use full field mulch, the others only mulch the tops of the beds. Assuming 50 percent of strawberry growers already employ full-field mulch, changing the practice of the remaining 50 percent could mean a savings of 3,500 acre-feet.
It seems that almost all strawberry growers use drip irrigation, though with varying degrees of efficiency. Growers should establish one line of drip tape per row of plants, rather than one or two per bed. This change could reduce water use by 20-30 percent.
According to the author of the Crop Water Use Study, growers have been known to soak fruit destined for processing before it is harvested, in order to increase its weight. If growers were paid by volume of berries rather than by weight this wasteful practice would be discouraged.
Other programs, though applicable to all crops, could result in substantial conservation when applied to strawberries.
Growers should invest in laser leveling to ensure better uniformity of water distribution.
Estimated Annual Water Use: 4,500 acre-feet
Percentage of Total Basin Demand: 6.6%
Raspberries are the most water intensive major crop grown in the Pajaro Valley. Many growers irrigate each raspberry acre with more than a million gallons of water per acre each year. In San Juan Rd region, some use two million gallons per acre. The Pajaro Valley is one of the largest producers of fresh raspberries in the U.S., with roughly 1,300 acres harvested annually. Pesticide use permits, while inaccurate for determining exact acreage, suggest that in 1998 Pajaro Valley raspberry fields may have covered more than 1500 acres.
According to the Crop Water Use Study, raspberry growers in the Valley used an average of 3.68 acre-feet of water per acre. Our examination of the numbers suggests that the study may have given disproportionate weight to one region of the Valley where raspberry water use greatly exceeds the Valley average. By weighting the water use by growing region, we estimate the average water use for raspberries is 3.1 acre-feet per acre. Even with this lower number, raspberries are still the most water intensive major crop in the Valley. Our more conservative estimate places average annual raspberry water use at roughly 4,500 acre-feet.
Chart 8. The largest 10% of Raspberry growers farm the majority of the acreage.
All raspberry growers do not use the same amount of water. There are 71 growers who control the raspberry production in the Pajaro Valley. The largest 10 percent of these growers? seven individuals? account for 67% of total raspberry acreage, or twice as much land as the remaining 64 growers. Overall, raspberry production, while practiced by many individuals, is dominated by a limited number of large growers who are organized into shipper groups. Changes made by this handful of growers and shippers would have a dramatic impact on total water use.
Raspberries: Towards Efficient Water Use
According to the crop water use study there is a wide range of water use on raspberry crops. In the region off San Juan road 13 percent of growers surveyed applied over 6 acre-feet of water to their crops annually, over a three year period. This is by far the most intensive agricultural use reported in the Crop Water Use Study, and highlights the need for the PVWMA to focus its conservation efforts on areas and individuals with extremely high water use records.
Raspberry growers often employ sharecroppers. The water agency’s Crop Water Use Study of 1998 notes that the use of sharecroppers can result in inefficient water use as irrigation is scheduled according the needs of the sharecropper with the thirstiest portion of the land. Growers often employ many sharecroppers who harvest the same land. One large grower, for example, has employed more than a dozen sharecroppers to grow raspberries.
Raspberry production has changed in recent years with more dense planting resulting in greater water demand. Additional studies may be needed to find the most efficient means of meeting the real water demands of the plants. Because raspberries are such a water-thirsty crop in a region with little water to spare, extra care should be taken to irrigate as efficiently as possible.
Other common sense practices which could be used by all growers including:
Continual examination of drip tape for leaks.
Residential, Commercial and Industrial Use:
Residential and Commercial Water Use: 12,200 acre feet
Residential and Commercial percentage of Basin Demand: 18%
Industrial Water Use: 4,100 acre feet
Industrial Percentage of Basin Demand: 6%
The largest non-agricultural user of water is the City of Watsonville Water Service Area (WWSA) which provides water to Watsonville, Freedom, Corralitos and the Pajaro Dunes residential development. WWSA provides water primarily to residential users but also to commercial and industrial users as well as parks within the Watsonville city limits. In 1988 the WWSA pumped 7,832 a.f. of water.
In addition to the WWSA there are roughly 50 small water purveyors in the Pajaro Valley area which pump from private wells and are responsible for maintaining the safety and cleanliness of their water supplies. The Aromas Water District and Pajaro Community Service District both serve more than 1,000 residents. Most of the purveyors serve fewer than 100.
A significant percentage of residential water is consumed by rural residential users who typically operate their own wells. In 1989 there were roughly 23,700 rural residential water users consuming an estimated 4,100 a.f. annually. Because there are so many rural water users, most of the wells are not metered, making it difficult to get a very accurate assessment of rural residential demand.
Residential water use, both rural and municipal has been increasing slowly, but steadily as more people move into the Valley. Increased residential development will continue to spur additional water use. Compared to the increase in agricultural water use, however, this represents a relatively minor increase.
Industrial water users consume roughly 4,100 a.f. of water annually. About a quarter of this comes from the WWSA supply with the remaining amount from private wells. Almost 90 percent of industrial water demand comes from the food processing industry. Industrial water demand has been quite stable for the past 25 years and the PVWMA does not predict dramatic change in that sector.
Industrial, Residential and Commercial Conservation Potential
Significant conservation measures can begin in the home. The City of Watsonville has taken the lead on the only major conservation program taking place within the district and has made low-flow toilets and showerheads available at low cost. These measures have helped conserve 500 acre-feet so far and have kept urban water use down despite dramatic population growth. This program should be continued and expanded to subsidize low water use washing machines and dishwashers.
Students in local schools should continue to be instructed on the severity of the basin’s ground water problems and conservation education should be incorporated into appropriate school programs starting from an early age.
The PVWMA should encourage local ordinances which prohibit the over-irrigation of lawns. The WWSA should join with the PVWMA to pursue a leak detection program to eliminate water loss within its own system.
There is the potential for a great increase in water demand through expanding development of residential and agricultural land. Low density residential and commercial land both use roughly 2 a.f. of water per acre, and higher density development can use significantly more. The city of Watsonville and the counties of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz may consider changes in the zoning plan or the addition of impact fees to insure that new developments provide sufficient financing to purchase supplemental water through environmentally sound solutions.
As noted above, roughly 90% of the industrial water use demand comes from fruit and vegetable processors. There is potential for the reuse of food processing waste water for the irrigation of golf courses or other non-food needs. Because food processing is seasonal, with high demand during the summer, there is potential for large supplies of effluent during periods of high demand. The City of Watsonville should pursue the possibility of using reclaimed water and should expand its filtration plant in order to make use of local surface waters.
THE VOTERS SPEAK
The recently approved voter initiative Measure K requires that the PVWMA move quickly to promote conservation efforts and bring the Valley’s water basin into balance. Measure K provides the agency with a mandate to deal with the problem of overdraft by 2013; it states that conservation should be a priority program towards this goal. The measure supports the enactment of local supply projects. It also emphasizes investigation into alternative sources of water such as reclamation and tertiary treatment.
Measures K and D set new priorities for the PVWMA; the agency must focus on local projects and conservation. The agency cannot build a pipeline until 2008 at the earliest, and is required to win voter approval to undertake the project. By passing two measures that placed restrictions on the PVWMA’s ability to build the pipeline, and rejecting the Board’s Measure L, voters have made it clear that they have deep reservations about the PVWMA’s financial management plans.
MOVING TOWARDS NEW SOLUTIONS
This report has analyzed water use patterns within the Pajaro Valley as a first step towards finding the most efficient and cost effective solutions to our water problems. This analysis has demonstrated that the large growers of high water use crops have a great deal of responsibility for the basin overdraft. Small changes in the irrigation practices of the largest growers have the potential to save thousands of acre feet of water. While we must all work towards finding solutions, real changes must come from the largest water users in the basin.
Many growers in the Pajaro Valley have made headway. Most growers now use drip irrigation and few if any growers in the Valley use such wasteful methods as furrow irrigation. Because most wells are now metered we can track water use and progress in conserving water. While these are positive steps, it is clear that an effective conservation program could have a substantial impact on the Valley’s sizable water problems.
According to the agency’s 1990-94 Mobile Lab Report, the irrigation systems for 54 out of 72 growers (75%) who participated in the evaluations received a rating of "fair" or "poor". In a region with one of the most severely overdrafted basins in the state these low ratings are unacceptable. The 1998 Crop Water Use study demonstrates that even within small regions of the Valley there are large variations in the amount of water growers apply on a given crop, strongly suggesting that many growers over irrigate.
When the PVWMA was created in 1984, its charter declared conservation to be one of its primary projects. The agency has substantially neglected this fundamental principle. While much of the groundwork has been laid to begin an effective conservation program, the PVWMA has not implemented one. Apart from a city-led project which has saved approximately 500 a.f. each year since 1992, our water district has no substantial conservation program in place.
The agency has recently embarked upon a series of local supply projects, but has found that certain elements are delayed indefinitely, projected yields were overestimated, and cost estimates are already on the rise from $36 million to $38 million. While local supply projects are important, they are clearly expensive. The local projects are likely to cost almost as much money as the PVWMA will be able to generate through augmentation fees for several decades while only solving a fraction of the overdraft. This further illustrates the need for conservation? long recognized to be the most cost effective of local projects. PVWMA documents have shown for years that basic conservation measures can save 9,000 a.f. each year, and that conservation measures can be taken at a tiny fraction of the cost of other projects. Chart 9 shows that conservation comes out on top of a cost benefit analysis of solution projects.
Chart 9. Conservation Saves More Water Per Penny Spent than Local Supply Projects or an Import Pipeline
Unfortunately, the PVWMA’s has not yet set specific conservation goals or attempted to yield measurable water savings through conservation.
NEW SOLUTIONS FOR THE PAJARO VALLEY
The PVWMA must follow the lead of other agencies throughout the state that realize that an effective water control plan is needed. To date, the Agency has generally focused on supply issues but has failed to manage growing demand. Because conservation is the right thing to do and because the people of the Valley demand it, the agency must now initiate a conservation program. Such a plan can combine many of these elements:
I. Infrastructure development
Local conservation coordinator. The first recommendation of state and federal advisors to local water districts is to appoint a full time water conservation coordinator. There are some signs that the PVWMA is moving in this direction, but it has not done so to date. It is unlikely that a PVWMA conservation plan will have any success without strong staff support.
Increased use of CIMIS. The PVWMA should bring CIMIS (California Irrigationddanagement Information System) weather stations to each of the Valley’s microclimates. CIMIS stations are relatively inexpensive. The PVWMA should conduct trainings to ensure that growers know how to use CIMIS to their best advantage.
Understand local water use. The PVWMA should update and maintain publicly available information on water use in district. The agency should build a database which links water pumping patterns to cropping data. This could be accomplished largely through coordination with the Monterey and Santa Cruz County Agricultural Commissioner’s offices which maintain these public records. This data would be vital in determining whether individual growers are meeting conservation goals.
Set baseline extraction and annual efficiency extraction allocations. Large water users need to be responsible and efficient with our public resource. Accountability mechanisms have been developed by other water districts. Water allocations based on historical use, cropping patterns and irrigation efficiency will develop increase responsibility and accountability of water users to the public. Reasonable goals for use reduction should be set, along with penalties for use levels above baseline.
Prioritize use reduction for the District’s largest water users. Individual large water users often consume as much water as several thousand households in and around Watsonville. Because reducing the use of the largest water consumers will have much more beneficial impact that reducing the use of individual residents, the PVWMA should focus its energies on those individuals who use 100 a.f. of water or more per year.
Alternative Sources of Funding. Because Measure D capped the augmentation fees at $50 per acre-foot, and the PVWMA’s recharge project is predicted to absorb almost all of its budget for the next thirty years, the agency will have to look to alternative funding mechanisms including impact assessments for development or changes in land use that involve an increase in water use, fines and penalties for water wasters, and new hook-up fees. All fees should be paid promptly to the PVWMA or incur cumulative penalty charges.
II. Concrete program with enforcement
Concrete goals. Because wells are metered, the PVWMA will be able to measure the impact of specific conservation measures – but concrete goals must be set and met. The conservation coordinator should establish long term and short term goals to achieve high levels of conservation. Goals should include scheduled reasonable reductions in water use for the major water users in the Valley.
Individual conservation plans. The conservation coordinator should insure that all growers maintain an individual conservation plan. The plans should be reviewed periodically and annual irrigation efficiency audits should be used to ensure that the plans are being followed. These conservation programs and independent evaluations should be available to the public.
Penalties for wasteful practices. The PVWMA should establish a list of wasteful practices including maintaining leaky pipes, and using sprinklers during sunny days or windy conditions. Growers found to be engaged in wasteful water practices should face financial penalties.
Provide incentives for conservation. Growers should be given a baseline of how much water they should be using, given the crops they plant and climactic conditions (including soil type) that they face. Growers which exceed their baseline water use limits should receive financial penalties, while those whose water use falls below 80% of their baseline could receive financial incentives through reductions in their augmentation fee charges.
III. Technical support.
Reintroduction of the mobile lab. As noted above, in the past the PVWMA maintained a mobile lab to help growers increase irrigation efficiency. The lab was eliminated for lack of interest but has recently been reintroduced on a limited basis. The lab should be permanently reinstated and heavily promoted especially among the largest water users. A similar program should be made available to Pajaro Valley residents and businesses.
Local solutions. The PVWMA should conduct its own studies on farming practices specific to the Pajaro Valley’s crops and climate to give growers all the information that they need to irrigate efficiently.
Work with state and federal agencies. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has established a list of Best Management Practices for agricultural irrigation which several local water agencies have signed on to. Many of these recommendations include the use of CIMIS and conversion to drip irrigation systems. The PVWMA should endorse these practices and seek to ensure that growers within the PVWMA district follow best management practices.
Several water agencies including Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency are achieving significant results by implementing strong conservation programs incorporating disincentives to waste water. These programs may be controversial, but this political battle will be much smaller than the environmental and economic crisis it will help us avoid. If an aggressive conservation program is not implemented now, then we can expect land fallowing and thousands of jobs lost in the future.
While many difficult decisions remain, the Pajaro Valley has already made the most important choice. By approving Measure K the community has demonstrated the importance of acting now to preserve the unique characteristics of this special Valley. The PVWMA must move forward to follow the mandate of Measure K. Failure to act risks massive job loss and land deterioration as well as state intervention and adjudication of water rights which would be in no one’s best interest. The problems we face are severe but we can make a difference in pursuing environmentally and economically sound solutions.
Sources and Methodology
We analyzed the relative size of growers within the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency District through an examination of the 1998 pesticide use permits filed in the portions of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties contained within the PVWMA district. Data for non-agricultural pesticide use was filtered out, as was uncultivated agriculture and all permit applications which expired prior to January 1, 1998. Crops were then grouped: Raspberry, Bushberry, Strawberry, Vegetable, Orchard, Outdoor Nursery and Greenhouse. For the purposes of this study "Undeclared Commodity" was assumed to be vegetables. According to discussions with the Santa Cruz County and Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, this is true for almost all of the acreage in Santa Cruz County and much of the acreage in Monterey County. As noted above, different cropping patterns between vegetables and other crops, as well as different reporting standards for vegetables in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties makes it difficult to use pesticide permits to compare acreage between vegetables and other crops. The information contained within the pesticide use permits is sufficiently reliable, however, to provide good estimates of the relative size of different growers within the PVWMA district and serves as a useful tool in furthering the understanding of the key water users within the district.
Several of the sources cited in this report are based upon data compiled in 1989. We used the most recent information provided to us by the PVWMA, and through extensive research, found the data to be as accurate as any available. These documents, including the 1993 Basin Management Plan continue to serve as the basis for the water agency and board’s decision making. We therefore took the data to be adequate for the purposes of this analysis.
1. Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency Basin Management Plan, Main Report, Volume 1, 1993. (Figure 7-5).
Additional Sources for Conservation Recommendations
MCWRA Water Conservation Program Summaries for 1995 and 1996.
PVWMA "Water Conservation Measures", 1990.
State Water Conservation Coalition Agricultural Conservation Task Force,
For a copy of "Stop the Salt, Save our Jobs", complete with graphs, call 831-761-7174.