Water Situation Forcing Tough Choices

The dry winter is coming more into play as the season progresses. The West Side has been particularly hard hit with water shortages.

“We’re already hearing reports of water users that are almost out of water,” says Ted Sheely, grower in Kings County and Westlands Water District director. “There are cotton growers who supposedly have had bad stands of cotton and are thinking about replanting. Due to the water situation, it’s probably somewhat beneficial for them to think about selling their water at a premium rather than replanting cotton in May.”

The vegetables will get the priority this season when it comes to allocating well water versus canal water, Sheely says. “We are only going to use canal water on the grapes. They’re only a year old, and we’re only anticipating taking a light crop off this year.”

In the coastal regions, the water situation is similar. “The water situation is tough,” says Corky Roche, Roche Vineyard Consulting in Salinas. “The wells for the most part are marginal. Growers irrigated through the winter because it was so dry. I’m pleasantly surprised at this point how much growth we’ve had on the vines. However, the next few weeks will be interesting when we start getting fruit and water becomes more of an issue.”

It’s almost a “Catch 22” situation at this point, according to Roche. “It finally warmed up enough so we could put out sulfur,” he says. “And we don’t want any rain on that.”

Parts of northern California did receive rain last week, but it was only marginally helpful in the overall moisture deficit. “At this late stage, any rain pretty much just makes disease management that much harder, rather than to help with the dry winter/water supply problem,” says Cliff Ohmart, Research/IPM Director for the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission.

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