West Valley farmers spent $150 million last year buying some water and storing it in San Luis Reservoir. They were planning ahead for a zero water allocation from the federal Central Valley Project this year.
Looks like they were right about the zero allocation, but maybe their investment and wise planning won't work out.
They face losing the water, according to a story by Bee Washington bureau reporter Michael Doyle today. The drought may influence the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to seize the water and send it to other west-side farmers who have more senior rights.
For today's story in The Bee, I interviewed Mark Borba, a farmer in the Westlands Water District, who bought water and left it in the reservoir. He told me that losing it could be devastating to growers and the broad west-side economy.
He said he already has planted garlic and made a commitment to buy a special hybrid tomato seed, which he planned to grow as processing tomatoes. His water in San Luis would get him through peak demand time for his crops.
Borba said he thinks he can keep important parts of his operation going with wells, but some others growers don't have wells.
"The real devastation will be in the land that has to be fallowed if the Bureau of Reclamation takes this water," he said. "It could be 175,000 acres out of production. That will hurt the local economies and take away jobs for a lot of farmworkers."
All of which leads me to a question that will be debated as this winter continues. If rain and snow arrive later this winter and there is water available on the open market, how much will it cost?
Borba said he bought 400 acre-feet last year for $800 an acre-foot -- more than four times the cost he would regularly pay.
He said paying that much for water does not pencil out financially for farming, but he wanted a backup plan in case a well failed.
Someone offered him $1,000 per acre-foot for the water, Borba said. That is a huge price to pay for water. But I'm told that price may go even higher.
I don't remember a time when a federal agency seized water in San Luis Reservoir under these conditions. I also don't recall the last time water prices were driven this high.
If this dry spell continues through February, what else will happen?