Conservation ethic allows farmers to thrive during drought

The Mercury News

Despite record-setting rains earlier this fall, Central Valley farmers are still reeling from having their water supplies drastically reduced when the drought intensified last spring. Many farmers have been forced to rip out crops that can no longer be irrigated. Some have doubled or tripled their groundwater pumping as wells dry up before their eyes.

In the Monterey Bay area, however, crops reach toward the sun with thirst-quenched leaves. Well levels aren’t raising any alarms, and the threat of losing water supplies has mostly subsided.

“I don’t know anybody having water issues right now,” said Joe Schirmer, owner of Dirty Girl Produce, a 40-acre organic farm in Watsonville.

Motivated by a need to keep seawater from seeping into the region’s aquifers, Monterey Bay water agencies and both small farms and large corporate farms have been aggressively protecting water basins from saltwater intrusion for a quarter of a century. Expensive water-recycling projects have allowed farmers to reduce their reliance on groundwater, as conservation-minded growing practices and cutting-edge irrigation techniques reduce water waste.

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