Valley Water Drying Up - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Valley Water Drying Up

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Our groundwater is drying up and parts of the Valley are actually dropping as the underground water goes.

KMPH's Rich Rodriguez investigated our disappearing water supply, and uncovered what farmers are finding… that ground water is quickly getting harder to find.

The Houlding brothers, Bob, Jerry and Mike, have been a farming institution for 40 years. They farm 3,000 acres on the Westside and in Madera County. Just like their neighbors, they rely on Central Valley Project water to keep their farms growing. But with a preliminary forecast of zero irrigation water for 2014, they're getting their wells in shape. "We just got through adding almost 80 to 100 feet more pipe in order to go deeper because our water level is going down. And there's a limit to what we can pump out of the underground water supply," said Bob Houlding.

When the Houlding's started farming in Cantua Creek, a community that has its own post office but little else, they had only one pump. Now they have 6. "This year we had to lower every well on the ranch. We had to do work and I think we just finished that about a week ago," said Jerry Houlding.

The Houlding's grow canning tomatoes that require a lot of water. Due to the drought some farmers are altering what they grow. Tomatoes are a $434,000 crop in Fresno County. In 2012, it was the 5th ranked crop in Fresno County. A year earlier, it was 3rd, which is a sign that fewer tomatoes are being planted.

"They're concerned about the water situation. We had some executives from some of our processing canneries come out last year," said Mike Houlding.

It seems all of the Houlding's neighbors are putting in new wells, too.

Arthur and Orum have been drilling wells in the Valley for 45 years. Steve Arthur says business has never been better. "We're booked up to the middle of next summer. I've never seen it like this in all the year's I've been doing it," said Arthur.

Steve Arthur's company has seven well drilling rigs. Each one is spitting out water and mud 24 hours a day until the job is finished. A dairy in the Riverdale area is putting in the pump for farming purposes and not to water the herd. The price tag to drill down to 1,000 feet is between $180,000 and $200,000.

"The average farmer, the smaller farmers, it's gonna get to the point where they cannot afford to drill an ag well because of the cost of it and come out profitable," said Arther.

Growers are concerned about profit margins. Plus, what all these pumps, new and old, doing to the underground water table? "It's kind of whoever has the longest straw is gonna get the water out of the ground. But it gets expensive and it adds on to your cost of producing that crop," said Mike Houlding.

There's also the fear that the government could step in and create new rules for pumping. "I think the state could do it anytime or if there is a triggering event that might with subsidence or whatever might trigger it, it could be tomorrow," said Bob Houlding.

Right now, no one is telling well diggers to stop drilling or farmers to shut off their pumps, but subsidence is occurring in Central California. That's where the ground sinks because the water table is shrinking.

Researcher Dr. Joseph F. Poland had this picture taken with signs on a pole showing the approximate altitude of farmland near Mendota in 1925, 1955, and 1977. His research determined the level of the earth subsided by more than 28 feet due to pumping of groundwater. To date, no new pictures have surfaced to show if the ground continues to shrink. "It's an unknown, it's a gray area but everybody feels the pressure of it's there, its coming, when will it come," said Mike Houlding.

Westside agriculture plays a major role in Fresno County's crop production total of $6,587,000,000. That figure leads the nation. Agriculture is a driving force in the county's economy as the ag dollar turns over four times. It's an economic engine that equals jobs.

With surface water iffy at best next year, growers like the Houlding's are banking on well water.

Well driller Steve Arthur is swamped and the phone just won't stop ringing. "I wonder about that when they tell me they want six or seven of them. Then I try to figure out what they're raising out there. They must know what they're doing," said Arther.

Many growers have decided to take irrigation matters into their own hands. They're relying on well water instead of reduced water deliveries that won't produce a crop.

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