Sharing Water to Save Fish

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Sharing Water to Save Fish

By John Azevedo, President

Published October 1, 2015

Shelina Moreda

I promise this will be the last article I write about water! 

Hopefully by the time next month’s article is penned, we will have even more evidence that the El Nino conditions forming in the Pacific will deliver much needed relief to Sonoma County – and all of California. Heavy rains will go a long way in calming the fears of many and perhaps quiet the voices of those who claim that agriculture is in large part responsible for our water woes. 

As history tells us, the West was won by harnessing the forces of nature for the benefit of man.  Few would argue that this is how California became the bread basket for the nation. However, the last four years of drought may be Mother Nature’s way of telling us she is still in charge. That fact does not come as a surprise to those of us in the farming community; because we are acutely aware of how fickle she can be, farmers have long lived by the words “hope for the best and prepare for the worst”.  And that is what many have done!

By taking a few moments to observe our surroundings, there are many examples of how local agriculture has been long preparing itself for an unpredictable future, and that includes the expectation that California, and the west in general, is likely to experience drought conditions well into the next decade. To mitigate historic dry spells and the continued need to irrigate crops, over the last 20 years many local farmers have invested their dollars and resources into constructing reservoirs. Indeed, it would be nearly impossible to drive through any of the agriculture regions of this county and not notice a substantial number of rain capture reservoirs. 

Agriculture and community reservoirs are now serving another purpose: sharing water to save fish. These actions are in response to a plea from the resource agencies.  There are four remarkable efforts that I am aware of to use water stored in reservoirs to conserve local salmon populations. I think that these efforts are worth mentioning and their actions worth emulating.  

E.J Gallo, who owns land along Porter Creek, began releasing water from their reservoir to increase flows for fish in May of this year. Last month, the water district at Camp Meeker began pumping 2,700 gallons an hour into Dutch Bill Creek. Landowner Chris Panym is releasing 22 gallons of water per minute from his farm reservoir to feed the upper reaches of Green Valley Creek. On one of their ranches in the west county, Jackson Family wines is releasing water from its reservoir to protect over-summering salmon into the lower reach of Green Valley Creek.

By working together farmers, communities and resource agencies can perhaps not out-smart Mother Nature, but we can be better prepared for whatever she has in store for us.  I think that we can and should, in much larger numbers, share our water in future years. There is a long-standing and strong commitment to stewardship in our farming community and this is another opportunity to share that story with others.

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