A farm community pulling together

Record file photo

The takeaway from a new state report is that Delta farmers voluntarily cut their diversions by 32 percent, or about 153,000 acre-feet of water, last summer.

But beyond the numbers, the report offers some interesting details about how the estuary’s farming community rallied together in response to an unprecedented challenge — and what state officials learned from those farmers as well.

Here are some of those details, straight from the report, mostly in the words of Michael George, a state official who serves as the Delta “watermaster”:

• When it comes to really understanding farming, “there is no substitute for riding shotgun in a pickup driven by the guy who farms the field.”

• Farmers were asked to save 25 percent, but most actually aimed higher than that.

• Faced with a need to get creative in how they would achieve those savings, the farmers learned from each other, “sometimes only by observation of a neighbor’s practices, other times by swapping stories at the coffee shop, sometimes through intermediaries like lawyers, engineers, pest management advisors, regulators and vendors.”

• While men are still predominantly working the fields, women “contributed greatly” to the success of the diversion reduction effort in the Delta. “Mothers, wives, daughters and helpers often wrote the plans, coordinated with their farm advisors, kept the records, fielded our calls and filed the reports.”

• “Delta farmers took pride in their efforts to ameliorate impacts of the drought. In fact, several farmers requested that we schedule and carry out inspections of their fields, because they wanted their efforts both understood and documented.”

• Some farmers looked at the reduction program as an opportunity to conduct experiments or “test their ‘hunches'” about the interaction of soil, water and nutrients on their fields.

• These farmers faced “real costs” associated with taking less water: higher operations costs, lower crop yields, shifts in prices, the burden of reporting and recordkeeping and their own time.

• While farmers had “generally favorable” views of the program once they got into it, “farmers remain skeptical that we (the state) know enough about their practices to be intelligent regulators of their water rights.”

• And finally: “The farmers with whom we interacted over the course of the program — in the teeth of the drought, under the cloud of curtailments, enforcement actions and resulting litigation, and fearful that their water rights are under long-term attack — were almost universally eager to show us around, answer our questions, and help us understand their practices.”

Read the full report here.


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