Wilted Winter

The Monterey County Water Resources Agency will still be legally required to release some reservoir water into the Salinas River to maintain the steelhead trout habitat.

Since January, the Salinas Valley has cried a dry song, accumulating only 0.8 inches of rain – 11 percent of its average for that time.

Salinas Valley growers rely on groundwater to irrigate their crops, but no rain on the surface spells trouble. It means a dry Salinas River and no natural recharge of the aquifers the wells tap into. This is usually where the county’s largest reservoirs – lakes San Antonio and Nacimiento – come in for relief. The Monterey County Water Resources Agency releases water from the lakes into the Salinas River, recharging the groundwater levels during the height of irrigation season – April 1 to Oct. 1 – and supplying growers in Castroville, where historic overpumping and seawater intrusion have compromised many wells.

Yet, an exceptionally dry winter has depleted the lakes’s reserves. With no rain in sight, water agency staff are preparing to recommend no irrigation releases for the 2022 season, a first since the severe drought of 2012-2016.

Agency general manager Brent Buche says the Salinas Valley can do one irrigation season with no recharge, but any more and “the groundwater table will drop to where landowners won’t be able to draw water from their wells.”

Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau believes growers in Castroville could have a tough year. Monterey One Water, the local wastewater agency, has an agreement to supply Castroville growers with recycled water, but M1W cannot meet demand on its own.

Mirroring conversations last July, M1W is negotiating a deal with Salinas for access to water from one of the city’s reclamation ponds in order to meet the demands of growers.

Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

(1) comment

James Sang

Excellent article!! I brought this exact issue to the Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency three weeks ago! I told them that none of their projects would work if we don't get enough rainfall! I did not get a response!

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