At the close of the 2007 harvest, farmers on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley were speculating and swallowing hard at the prospects of paying $150 per acre foot next season for surface irrigation water deliveries, roughly twice what was charged this season by Westlands Water District.
Swallowing has been replaced by gagging at the number many now believe will be the opening bid for water placed on the auction block on the West Side.
That was the bid for water offered at auction by growers last summer when state and federal officials shut down Delta pumps because smelt were swimming too close to the pumps. Several farmers have said there is no reason to expect that the open market price will go down for 2008 water.
This will be either surface water delivered to growers who will not use it or well water farmers have elected to sell rather than use to farm row crops. Water may be the most lucrative crop in 2008.
With so many permanent orchards and vineyards now on the West Side, there will be takers at $500 or more. It is either that or let trees and vines die. With investments representing $12,000 per acre or more, farmers have no choice but to pay the price to protect their investments.
Although many producers have wells, many do not and are at the mercy of what is expected to be a water bidding war.
Producers are now taking extreme measures to get ready for the 2008 “judicial drought.”
Jean Errotabere of Riverdale, Calif. is stringing aluminum irrigation pipe from one end of his family's farm to the other, connecting wells so he can get water to orchards if there is no surface water available. He is not the only one.
Harris Farms reportedly has laid off 60 workers because of an anticipated cutback in row crop acreage in 2008.
There is also no doubt that many other workers will wind up without jobs this season, with gratitude to a 2-inch smelt minnow with a two-year life span and a bunch of wacko environmentalists.
Fallowing percentages of 50 percent or more are common for growers mapping out 2008 cropping patterns. Wheat early in the fall was considered a viable alternative in a water short year. White wheat planting seed is hard to find.
One of the state's major vegetable producers, D'Arrigo Brothers, reportedly will not plant lettuce on the West Side of the valley this year to fill the typical 30-day lettuce window gap between Salinas and the desert.
One of the nation's largest lettuce packers will just stretch the season on the coast and begin a little early in the desert, completely passing up the San Joaquin Valley deal.
Water selling for $500 is an incredible number. Water cost alone could equal the total budget for growing some crops at that price.
For $500 an acre foot, I am tempted to rent a tanker; drive it to Northern California; fill it with water; outfit the truck with loudspeakers to play the theme from “The Sting,” and drive up and down the roads on the West Side peddling water like a oversized ice cream truck.
I bet there will be farmers tank-watering trees and vines to keep them alive in 2008.