This past growing season, May through September, was the most challenging I have ever experienced in my 33 years as a fruit grower. The issue was the meager amount of water we were allotted by the irrigation district during the summer to irrigate our orchard. Severe and unprecedented rationing due to the drought has been going on for several years now. If our reservoir system is full we have enough water to last for years. But the problem has been that we have not had much rain or snow for consecutive seasons. If it weren’t for major conservation efforts over the past several years this growing season could have been a total disaster.
This year we ended up with about 70% of the water required for a successful season. We typically irrigate the orchard every 14 days in summer, but this season we have had to stretch that time to about 21 to 23 days. This took a toll on fruit quality and yields, in addition to causing incredible stress and in some cases early defoliation of our deciduous trees. We are extremely concerned that last summer’s stress from the lack of water will will lead to a poor fruit set this spring. Although the rainy season has a long way to go, we are very optimistic. To date our rainfall is above average; a fact that we haven’t seen for a while.
Victor Martino, Director of Operations Bella Viva Orchards
Water Content Is Still Far Below Average
The first manual snow survey of the Sierra snowpack this winter found more snow than last year at this time (depicted in the satellite images above), but the snow water equivalent as measured statewide remains far below average for this date. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted a survey recently about 90 miles east of Sacramento; snow covered the ground there to a depth of 21.3 inches. Today’s electronic readings indicate that water content in the northern mountains is 57 percent of normal for the date and 17 percent of the average on April 1, when the snowpack normally is at its peak before the spring melt. Electronic readings in the central Sierra show 45 percent of normal for the date and 16 percent of the April 1 average. The numbers for the southern Sierra are 48 percent of average for the date and 15 percent of the April 1 average.
DWR Director Mark Cowin said of the recent survey results: “Although this year’s survey shows a deeper snowpack than last year, California needs much more rain and snow than we’ve experienced over the past two years to end the drought in 2015. The department encourages Californians to continue their water conservation practices.” Below, this trio of images depicts satellite observations of declining water storage in California as seen by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites in June 2002 (left), June 2008 (center) and June 2014 (right). Colors progressing from green to orange to red represent greater accumulated water loss between April 2002 and June 2014.