The San Joaquin Valley stretches from across mid-California
between coastal ranges in west and the Sierras on the east. The
region includes large cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield,
national parks such as Yosemite and Kings and fertile farmland
and multi-billion dollar agriculture industry.
The federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project (about
30 percent of SWP water is used for irrigation) helped
deliver water to the valley. Today, San Joaquin Valley crops
include grapes, tomatoes, hay, sugar beets, nuts, cotton and a
multitude of other fruits and vegetables. At the same time, water
used to grow these crops has led to the need for agricultural
Irrigation agencies in Oakdale and Manteca will reap $11.5
million selling Stanislaus River water to outsiders in coming
weeks. Sensitive to pressure from local farmers, government
officials and media, the Oakdale Irrigation District kept the
deal under wraps until Tuesday’s announcement.
More than 300 farmers, workers and elected officials from
throughout the Valley gathered Friday at Rojas Pierce Park in
Mendota to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to call a special legislative
session to deal with California’s water crisis.
Experts say people affected by the drought also face stress,
which can escalate to anxiety, depression and a host of other
mental conditions. Studies show those findings are especially
true for people who rely on water for economic survival, such
as farmers, and people living in rural areas with fewer options
for income and care.
The Eastside Water District board voted Thursday to ask its
farmers for $6 million for a groundwater recharge project. The
system would eliminate no more than 10 percent of the overdraft
in the 61,000-acre district, which straddles Stanislaus and
Merced counties southwest of Turlock Lake, but backers said it
would be a worthwhile start.
Clout can be defined in many ways. In California’s parched
Central Valley farmlands, it’s the ability to secure water. By
that measure, the giant Westlands Water District has just set a
whole new standard.
A Congress that has stumbled over a California water bill amid
record drought now faces a challenging new fight over
irrigation drainage. … In a federal court filing Wednesday,
the Justice Department provided both details and a roadmap for
the irrigation drainage settlement formally agreed to by
federal and Westlands officials the day before.
Strong market prices and increased production helped push
Madera County’s 2014 crop values to a record-high $2.2 billion.
… Hardest hit by the drought were field crops, including
cotton, corn, oat hay and wheat.
For years, an obscure team of water wonks has met each month in
a conference room at the California Water Service Co. offices
in downtown Stockton. Their charge: To protect the region’s
precious groundwater, an invisible natural resource as
little-known as those who guard it.
A top Interior Department official next Tuesday will sign a San
Joaquin Valley irrigation settlement with the Westlands Water
District, signaling the end of a long-running legal battle, but
marking the start of a hot new political fight.
In an annual lobbying ritual, more than 30 officials from eight
[San Joaquin] valley counties this week swarmed the hill in
search of federal support for an assortment of projects and
priorities. … What they got was a crash course in
congressional politics, circa 2015.
The state’s historic drought has hit the San Joaquin Valley
hard, with farm losses in the billions, an increase in health
issues and a decline in income, according to a Fresno State
study released Thursday.
Fresno County agriculture set a record in 2014, with crop
values reaching $7 billion for the first time. … The county’s
total value was just the third best in the state – behind
Tulare and Kern counties – as the drought continued to drag
down Fresno’s overall crop production.
The San Joaquin Valley now battles California’s epic drought in
cities as much as its nation-leading farm fields. From
Bakersfield to Modesto, people struggle to meet some of the
highest state-ordered cutbacks anywhere in California.
Fish concerns will force Tulloch Lake to drop sooner than water
agencies had announced in a milestone spring accord, while
construction work meant to ensure that 7,000 people won’t run
out of water for drinking and fire protection has not yet
The gutted cinder-block homes slated for demolition in the
western Fresno County town of Five Points are a haunting symbol
of [Diana's] Toscano’s struggle during one of the worst
droughts in California’s history: finding enough children to
keep the local Migrant Head Start Center from shutting its
Despite the drought, local farmers this year will get 44 inches
of water per parcel instead of 40, Oakdale irrigation leaders
decided Tuesday, because customers so far have used much less
Working with the nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises, the drought
relief program will furnish a tank and small pump to restore
water for homeowners with dry wells. … The costs are covered
by the $1 billion drought relief package approved by Gov. Jerry
Brown in March, officials said.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board ignored
its own staff recommendation and voted to let Valley Water
Management Co. continue disposing of excess wastewater by
spraying it on hillsides for another 21/2 years.
[Donna] Johnson is known as the water angel. … The
72-year-old is her town’s biggest advocate, sitting in on
drought funding meetings with county and state leaders,
shepherding reporters from around the globe so no one forgets
A vote Thursday secured the raw water supply for a treatment
plant proposed for Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto. … The
long-delayed project would reduce reliance on wells, as has
happened for 20 years with a similar plant for the rest of
California regulators are seeking a $1.5 million penalty from a
Tracy-area water district for allegedly illegally tapping the
delta for farmers and thousands of homes, marking a significant
escalation in the state’s push to get big users to go along
with drought-forced reductions.
Healdsburg’s Aaron Mandell wants to build a $30 million
desalination plant in the San Joaquin Valley that would use the
warmth of the sun to distill former irrigation water and reuse
it on thirsty farms. … “I think everybody is trying to
stretch the supplies every way they can,” said Jennifer Bowles,
executive director of the nonprofit Water Education Foundation
Fresno County supervisors want to lead an effort to get bond
money to build Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River
when funding becomes available in early 2017. … The county is
being pressed into action after the splintering of the Friant
Water Authority, said Supervisor Brian Pacheco.
Some of those concerned with the groundwater debate maintain
that flood irrigation of crops can be an effective way of
refilling aquifers. The University of California Cooperative
Extension in Stanislaus County is working on a pilot project to
test the theory.
Modesto is poised to take a big step Tuesday in its project to
send highly treated wastewater to drought-stricken West Side
farmers as soon as 2018, though the Turlock Irrigation District
remains a staunch opponent over concerns of how the project
will affect its groundwater basin.
One of the city’s more tranquil Delta settings would be the
scene of two years of intense construction work, and would have
a decidedly different look for decades into the future if a
plan to build a floodgate near the mouth of Smith Canal moves
Results of the most recent testing of recycled oil field
wastewater that Chevron sells to Kern County farmers for
irrigation showed no traces of methylene chloride, an
industrial solvent that had appeared in previous testing
conducted by a clean water advocacy group.
Madera County farmer Tom Rogers thought he knew a lot about how
to irrigate his family’s 175-acre almond ranch. But several
droughts, including the current four-year dry spell, made him
reconsider his approach on how to get the most out of his
ever-shrinking water supply.
With Gov. Jerry Brown imposing new mandatory water
reductions to respond to the statewide emergency, school
districts are grappling with how to adhere to those
requirements while continuing to meet the needs of students and
communities. … Some wells serving schools are drying up.
Valley cities — from the biggest to the smallest — have no
excuse for not having water meters by now. Water is no
different than gasoline or electricity: Consumers should pay
for precisely what they use, especially during this historic
Water will continue to flow to Mountain House under a deal
reached Monday, and a separate water sale pending approval
Tuesday would slake the community’s thirst for the rest of the
year, officials said.
Mountain House, an upscale community near Tracy, learned of its
precarious situation this month when the State Water Resources
Control Board issued a notice ordering the [Byron Bethany
Irrigation] district to “immediately stop diverting
The lawsuit, filed in Stanislaus Superior Court, challenges the
State Water Resources Control Board’s decision last week to ban
diversions by 114 different rights holders in the Sacramento
and San Joaquin river watersheds.
With water monitors like [Don] Wells on the prowl, Fresno is
taking a more aggressive tack than most cities in California’s
battle against the severe drought. In one month, Wells and his
water conservation team handed out 347 of the 838 penalties
issued by all the water districts statewide.
Nearly a year and a half after East Porterville’s first dry
well was reported, residents and experts say not having running
water and breathing increasingly dusty air is worsening their
pre-existing health issues and contributing to the development
of new ones.
Thousands of homes, businesses and apartments in the
drought-stricken central San Joaquin Valley lack water meters,
complicating efforts by city officials to reduce consumption as
mandated by the state. … By state law, all urban water
hookups in California must be metered by 2025, and the drought
is prompting some communities to speed up their programs.
Unlike the vast majority of communities in California, Mountain
House purchases all its water from a single rural irrigation
district. And that agency was covered by the state’s order
curtailing water rights for some of those who have held them
for more than century due to the state’s worsening drought.
San Joaquin County is once again eligible for millions of
dollars in grants to bolster the region’s water supply, after
landowners agreed to provide private well construction details
to the state, officials announced Wednesday.
The Stockton East Water District might send more water to
farmers than originally expected next month, despite the fact
that the reservoir on which the district relies has dwindled to
18 percent of capacity.
Yes, it will rain again someday. And when it does, and the
Calaveras River once more becomes a flowing stream, officials
want to give migrating fish their best possible chance at
journeying to prime spawning habitat below New Hogan Dam.
A glistening spectacle on the west Fresno County prairie could
be a rock star in California’s next drought. It’s a mirrored
solar array longer than a football field, collecting heat to
boil salt and other impurities out of irrigation drainage. …
The technology is among Valley water stories that The Bee will
tell this month in a weekly series.
The Fresno City Council on Thursday bought some much-needed
water and brought some unexpected peace to a dust-control
program. … Weeks of negotiations with the Friant Water
Authority and the federal Bureau of Reclamation led to a
Morada, located northeast of Stockton, is one of three small
towns in the county where water meters have been installed that
aren’t being used because of Proposition 218. The other two,
Acampo and Fairway Estates, surround Lodi.
Modesto is stepping up its enforcement of its drought
restrictions by sending water cops out in the early morning to
check for homeowners, businesses and others watering their
lawns and other landscaping when they shouldn’t or wasting
water because of malfunctioning sprinklers.
People don’t easily forget the moment the water dies. … In
this corner of the scorched Tulare Lake Basin, where lives and
livelihoods depend on water that comes from the ground, a human
crisis is accelerating amid California’s unrelenting drought.
Country Club residents are one step closer to shedding a
high-risk flood zone designation, after state officials agreed
this week to contribute $22 million toward the construction of
a gate near the mouth of Smith Canal.
The San Joaquin Valley’s tainted air might be getting an extra
dose of soot and ozone-forming gases this spring as growers
wrestle with the woody waste from dead citrus orchards. …
It’s more drought expense and woe in this broad farm belt where
thousands of growers for the second straight year have lost
river irrigation water for an area six times the footprint of
The plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calls for
improving 23 miles of levees, from Mosher Slough in the north
to French Camp Slough in the south. This is intended to protect
much of Stockton from catastrophic floods worsened by climate
“Less watering — less growth,” Public Utilities Director Thomas
Esqueda says. The result could be a blow to City Hall’s efforts
to meet state guidelines for solid-waste recycling and landfill
The farm is taking part in a research project using worms to
consume nitrogen in manure-tainted water that irrigates its
feed crops. The goal, in part, is to reduce the risk of
pollution. But the process also has a byproduct – an especially
rich fertilizer that can be sold to home gardeners and other
Chalk it up as yet another consequence of the drought. The
Stockton East Water District, which sells drinking water to
Stockton, experienced a rare water-quality violation at its
treatment plant east of town.
From their homes along Horseshoe Road east of Oakdale,
residents can’t help but notice the prominent mast of a
well-drilling rig atop the hill to the west. … Like so many
other wells in the area, it will pump water from deep in the
ground to feed orchards.
In the wake of zero water allocations again this year, Ronald
D. Jacobsma has stepped down as general manager of the Friant
Water Authority, representing 13 water districts on the San
Joaquin Valley’s east side. Jacobsma’s separation from the
authority follows the departure of eight water districts over
differences with the board of directors.
Farmers enjoying cheap water prices will pay more money for
less water this year, the Oakdale Irrigation District board
decided Tuesday. For the first time in 105 years, OID will
restrict water amounts, and as they did last year, farmers will
pay a $6.10-per-acre drought surcharge.
The 32-year-old farmer in the barber’s chair said his well
wouldn’t make it to summer. … It was late afternoon at the
tail end of what should have been the rainy season in the
fourth year of the California drought.
Look closely at the first-ever order for mandatory water
cutbacks in California. Just beyond the nine paragraphs that
start with “where as,” you find something San Joaquin Valley
residents should notice about the 25% reduction in water use.
Welcome, central San Joaquin Valley residents, to new rules for
surviving Drought 2015. Local cities are hustling to figure out
how they’ll comply with Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent executive
order listing 31 drought-fighting mandates.
Article after article in newspapers, magazines and online put
nut growers in a bad light related to the
drought. … I planted my almonds based on a contract
with the federal government to deliver surface water from
Fresno County Board of Supervisors declared a drought emergency
Tuesday so it can obtain state and federal government
reimbursement for local drought emergency costs. … The board
also supported water restrictions in five unincorporated areas
with about 400 customers.
Irrigation leaders were pleased to learn in a recent meeting
that groundwater levels in the Oakdale Irrigation District’s
wells have dropped less than 4 1/2 inches in the past year, on
average, despite record pumping. But those numbers were based
on data from only three-fourths of OID’s deep wells, a Modesto
Bee analysis found.
Parts of the San Joaquin Valley are deflating like a tire with
a slow leak as growers pull more and more water from the
ground. The land subsidence is cracking irrigation canals,
buckling roads and permanently depleting storage space in the
vast aquifer that underlies California’s heartland.
A 300-yard stretch of the Tuolumne River near Hughson shows one
of the many impacts of the ongoing drought. The river is thick
with water hyacinth, a plant that chokes the flow to the point
where it looks like you could walk across it.
Supreme Court justices will unpack many different arguments
when they consider a surprisingly big California raisin case.
With briefs filed in recent days, parties ranging from the
state of Texas and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to a bunch of
independent raisin growers from California’s San Joaquin Valley
have challenged a decades-old system for managing raisin
Unusually warm temperatures the past few days have made the
four-year drought worse for crops, so Modesto Irrigation
District leaders said Tuesday they’re inclined to start
farmers’ water season April 12 instead of two weeks later.
[Abelardo De Leon] Garcia, 81, had lost his water well on
Easter Sunday last year. Nearly a year later, his water supply
has been resurrected, thanks to federal funding and a
Visalia-based nonprofit called Self-Help Enterprises.
Residents of this tiny western Fresno County town recently told
Fresno County supervisors that they don’t want to pay higher
bills for water service to their tiny community — even if it
means having their water shut off. If they don’t agree to pay
more, Cantua Creek residents will stop getting water as early
How does the south San Joaquin Valley get some water in
back-to-back drought years while the east side goes without?
And, by the way, vast tracts of farmland on the Valley’s west
side also will be shut out.
California officials, responding to concerns about groundwater
contamination, are closing 12 wells in the Central Valley used
to dispose of chemical-laden water from oil and gas production,
regulators announced Tuesday.
The Fresno City Council approved Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s
historic water project Thursday night, assuring a secure supply
of the liquid gold well into the 21st century. The 6-1 vote was
actually for a five-year rate plan.
Water officials in Kern County discovered that oil producers
have been dumping chemical-laden wastewater into hundreds of
unlined pits that are operating without proper permits.
… The pits — long, shallow troughs gouged out of dirt —
hold water that is produced from fracking and other oil
Top officials with the State Water Resources Control Board and
the state Department of Water Resources took different
approaches to emphasize that public health and safety will be
the key issue when the [Fresno] City Council on Thursday
evening debates the mayor’s plan.
If winter weather doesn’t return soon with a vengeance, Tulloch
Lake – a popular fishing and boating spot between Oakdale and
Jamestown, and one of California’s few reservoirs lined with
thousands of homes – might look more like a puddle by July.
The next train wreck in California’s drought is headed for the
San Joaquin Valley this week when federal leaders forecast how
much river water farmers can expect to irrigate nearly 3
million acres this summer.
Cemex, an international cement and gravel company, had
suspended mining at its Stillwell site and stopped pumping
water into a seepage ditch that recharges groundwater for an
adjacent area that includes four homes.
Fresno is turning its sewer farm into a drought-buster. City
Hall has started building the first phase of an advanced
treatment plant that will deliver millions of gallons of water
every day for non-drinking uses, such as irrigation of green
This handbook provides crucial
background information on the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act, signed into law in 2014 by Gov. Jerry Brown. The handbook
also includes a section on options for new governance.
Modesto Irrigation District leaders Tuesday morning could
revive last year’s drought-combating measures, which enjoyed
only marginal success, for the coming season. … The MID board
Tuesday morning also will continue discussing a historical
inequity in rates that has electricity customers subsidizing
farmers’ water prices.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin has on tap a $1 million program to help
low-income Fresnans pay their water bills. Whether that is
enough to turn her proposed upgrade to Fresno’s water system
into reality figures to be City Hall’s hottest political
question this month.
Clean drinking water is something many Americans take for
granted, but in areas such as south Kern County access to safe
water is not guaranteed. A new program called Agua4All is
attempting to address that.
A little storm can come through and rain on Fresno records, but
I’m [Mark Grossi] driving at something else: This is winter in
capricious California. Wildfires, blizzards, killing frosts,
dry spells, howling wind, pleasant sunny days, drizzling storms
and fog happen in January.
Struggling sugar beet farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are
turning their crop into energy instead of sweetener. A
cooperative of nine sugar beet farmers just opened a
demonstration biorefinery south of Fresno.
The Turlock Irrigation District could cap water deliveries at
about 40 percent of the customary amount even if the rest of
winter brings average rain and snow. The district staff on
Tuesday night provided an initial look at the supply for 2015,
which is looking to be a fourth straight year of drought.
In the chilly January fog, Bee photographer John Walker and I
last week stood at a spot where the San Joaquin River died in
the 1960s — the Sand Slough Control Structure in Merced County.
We were researching the river restoration story that published
in Sunday’s Bee.
Stream gauges and monitoring wells are ready and waiting along
the San Joaquin River. Big money has been spent for the right
to let water flow through a private bypass. All that’s missing
now is water.
A state scientific review of what’s known about fracking in
California finds the controversial oil and gas production
technique is used in nearly half of all new wells, particularly
in four Kern county oil fields in the southern part of the San
About 20 percent of California’s oil and natural-gas production
uses hydraulic fracturing — with almost all of it happening in
one corner of the San Joaquin Valley — according to the most
authoritative survey yet released of fracking in the Golden
Hydraulic fracturing unlocked oil at about half of the new
wells launched in California over the last decade, and the
practice will likely expand in a chunk of the San Joaquin
Valley, according to a new study required by the 2013 law to
regulate the practice.
When I saw the headline “Westlands reaches secret deal” Monday
in The Bee, I knew it was about the toxic irrigation drainage
that caused a wildlife disaster in western Merced County more
than three decades ago.
A proposal to change water rates for farmers would have some
paying more money and some less, but would not bring more
revenue to the Modesto Irrigation District or affect the
massive subsidy borne by its electricity customers.
A staggering economic and environmental problem festering for
three decades in the southern San Joaquin Valley would be
addressed by a secret deal reached between the Obama
administration and farmers — one that is sounding alarms for
Bay Area lawmakers. … Details of the deal between
Westlands and the federal Bureau of Reclamation have not been
revealed to members of Congress, who would have to approve it.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sees a connection
between cleaning up the air and water and helping the economy
grow, says Gina McCarthy, who leads the federal government’s
environmental guardian. … The EPA leader said federal and
state officials are working together to provide money for
drinking-water fixes in the Valley.
It’s hard for elected officials to step away when their terms
come to a close. All that unfinished business. But when that
unfinished business happens to include the all-encompassing,
life-sucking subject of water, it’s even more difficult to let
If I have sugar in my pantry and flour in my cupboard, does
that make me a baker? No. But The Bee continues to assert that
since the Oakdale Irrigation District pumps groundwater and
sells surface water that makes it guilty of pumping and selling
groundwater out of the county.
Recent storms have mostly cleared Stockton waterways that were
hijacked by hyacinth the past two months, but officials at a
standing-room-only town hall meeting Monday said it’s important
to stay focused on the future.
The dairy industry across the San Joaquin Valley is worried
about California’s new endangered species protection for the
tricolored blackbird, which nests in dairy silage fields here.
And dairy leaders are disappointed because they had been trying
to help save the bird for years.
When a man of 91 is downright cantankerous and has been on his
land longer than most everyone else has been alive, he wastes
no time speaking his mind. So after his new neighbor started
sinking a well to plant a water-sucking almond orchard in the
middle of the worst drought he’d ever seen, James Turner
Electricity customers of the Turlock Irrigation District will
get a rate increase averaging 2 percent as of Jan. 1, following
a 5-0 vote by its board Tuesday morning. … TID also has
proposed a far larger increase – more than double – in farm
Wildlife officials took unprecedented emergency action
Wednesday to protect the tricolored blackbird, a once-prolific
songbird that declined 78 percent in the San Joaquin Valley
over the past six years.
Still staggering under $24 billion in debt, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency will increase flood-insurance rates
up to 18 percent next year for those living in high-risk flood
zones, including the Smith Canal area of Stockton.
Two actions taken Tuesday – one by the Modesto Irrigation
District Board of Directors and one by the Stanislaus County
Board of Supervisors – show that our elected officials are not
only listening, they are responding.
An intriguing public debate over electricity customers
subsidizing farmers has focused on what the farmers get:
irrigation water at bargain basement prices. Somewhat lost in
the dialogue is how much more power customers are paying – not
just to benefit agriculture, but to keep afloat the Modesto
Irrigation District’s entire operation.
The San Joaquin Valley campaign for Temperance Flat Reservoir
may have moved forward on federal drawing boards, and it may
have gotten a shot of adrenaline when the $7.5 billion water
bond past this month. But the public money is not committed
Already missing out on state money to address the drought, San
Joaquin County officials will soon ask property owners if
they’re willing to disclose to the state what some feel are
sensitive details about their wells.
There are 810 dried wells at Tulare County homes, and water
tanks may be their best chance to get running water for the
winter. At the same time, county officials say the cost of all
this triage could be $12 million annually — a cost the state
would pick up.