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November 16, 2011
NEW WATER EFFICIENCY STUDY FINDINGS ARE ON MARK, KINGS RIVER OFFICIALS SAY
Fresno, CA - A newly-released California State University, Fresno study and analysis of agricultural water use efficiency is absolutely correct in concluding that the state's farmers are not wasteful and inefficient in managing their water supplies, the Kings River Conservation District and Kings River Water Association say.
"The fact is that large amounts of water supplies simply aren't going to be redirected to other users as a result of increased farm water conservation because those volumes don't exist, and this study from the Center for Irrigation Technology at Fresno State makes that clear," said KRCD General Manager David Orth. "Much of what critics of irrigated agriculture purport to be agricultural waste is actually recovered and then re-used on farms, residences and for regional environmental benefits. It is a highly efficient system."
Claims have been made in recent reports from environmental interests that agriculture could conserve 10-15 percent of its water supply that in turn could then be utilized elsewhere for other purposes.
"This study from the Center for Irrigation Technology calls such findings inaccurate," said Kings River Watermaster Steven Haugen, who manages the KRWA for the 28 districts and companies that hold rights to deliver Kings River water. "We on the Kings River agree with CIT that agricultural water use isn't some isolated activity. We all know it is very much a part of the total community's environment and water supply."
CIT's study concludes that "the most viable approach to improved agricultural water management is from the bottom up and any major changes must be vetted through a local impacts analysis" since farm water supplies are "often co?dependent and/or impacted by decisions and activities of the local agricultural water users,"
Orth and Haugen said the Kings River agencies agree with the report's findings "that little potential exists for new water unless large swaths of agricultural land are taken out of production."
"The Kings River service area is located in the very heart of the world's most productive farming area," Orth said. "We need to be talking about preserving and stabilizing our available water supplies, not transferring them away from this highly productive region." As one of its many resource management functions, KRCD is involved on a number of fronts in helping do just that through on-farm water use efficiency analysis and funding while working to enhance the Kings River's environment and fishery habitat.
Watermaster Haugen noted that farmers who receive Kings River surface water or regional groundwater supplies are already highly efficient. He pointed out that CIT estimates that potential "new" water that might be created from increased statewide farm water use efficiency is just 1.3 percent of the amount used currently by California growers. "It's only one-half of one percent of the state's total average water use in a year," said Haugen. He noted CIT had found reallocations of agricultural water supplies to the environment that have occurred over the past several years add up to five percent or more, depending on the water year type. Plus, Haugen said, the report is correct in stating that changes in irrigation practices, such as switching from flood to drip irrigation, tend to re-route supplies within localities or river systems such as the Kings but do not create new water that can be used outside the basin.
KRCD's Orth said, "We are encouraged that the report's authors have analyzed in detail the various types of on-farm systems for irrigation efficiencies. They have confirmed that selection of an irrigation system depends on many factors and that no single type of system is always better than another. In the Kings River service area, many growers find furrow irrigation to have nearly the same irrigation efficiency as a micro-irrigation system. Just as importantly, a furrow system might be better for the grower's business situation."
Orth said he was also heartened by the CIT study's conclusion that groundwater overdraft, now estimated to be some 2 million acre?feet annually across California, remains a serious problem because of surface water supply inconsistency and uncertainty. The report says, "One constant and critical issue that has continued over the past 30 years is groundwater overdraft. This issue alone, if not addressed in a timely manner, may ultimately seal the fate of much of San Joaquin Valley agriculture. An important goal for agriculture is to play a leading role in designing a plan to provide a sustainable groundwater supply, as well as targeting long?term improvements in both surface and groundwater quality." Orth said KRCD has been a regional leader in groundwater management and making aquifer supply improvements over the past three decades.
KRCD and KRWA agree that the new study is extremely important and will be an excellent guide in helping all interests understand the complex operations, facilities and uses that are all part of California's water system and future needs.
"We are very pleased to learn that the Center for Irrigation Technology, after extensive research and analysis into very real irrigation systems and practices, has validated all of the key findings in a 1982 University of California Cooperative Extension report on ag water conservation in the valley and California," said Haugen. "That report by David C. Davenport and Robert M. Hagan has been used for three decades as a model water efficiency guidebook on the Kings River and elsewhere in the San Joaquin Valley. It is satisfying and reassuring to find their work reaffirmed as a foundation for effective agricultural water use efficiency with a great deal of its findings still relevant today."
Orth said KRCD and KRWA agree with CIT's authors that striving locally for more on-farm water conservation is important. "We're devoting a tremendous amount of time to developing means of boosting groundwater and surface water supplies by improving on-farm water management and practices," Orth said. "Improved water efficiency is a big part of that process but it is unrealistic to believe 'new' water supplies can be created for other parts of the state."
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