[caption id="attachment_23002" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Charles Barra"][/caption]

If California does not provide an adequate water supply at reasonable cost to its agricultural industry, competition from globalization will soon turn the state into a third world economy.

Additionally, most of the people who are working to find a solution to California water problems have a hard time understanding the economic impact that the lack of water at reasonable prices has on the California economy and how this directly affects working families and the state’s tax base.

When agricultural land is abandoned or fruit trees and grape vines are taken out because of the lack of water, the assessed value of the property goes down, thereby reducing revenues for local services and the resulting loss of jobs for working families.  Also, there is a huge decrease in the income from production, which reduces billions of dollars to the state and federal government in income taxes.

We must change the direction we have been going and make an investment to come up with new, innovative ways to use the resources we’ve already developed to help move our economy forward.

One idea is to work with farmers and cities to develop a reservoir system that could store more water in the winter rainy season and serve as a resource during the dry summers.  The sale of water and the increase in the tax base would more than repay the cost of development of these reservoirs.

Back in the 1950s, when some farmers were using wind machines and smudge pots to protect their crops from frost, there were rumblings that in Israel, they were protecting their vegetables with sprinklers and water with great success.  After further research and a demonstration from an engineer in Israel, I discovered it was absolutely true and potentially the solution to our frost problems. But without a consistent water supply, this approach would not be possible.

Because water for frost protection is so efficient and clean when compared to wind machines and oil heaters, one way to make this work is to invest in fish-friendly reservoirs with winter run-off water that  can be used for frost protection in the spring and then irrigate the land during the summer.  In addition to being self-sufficient and sustainable, there is very little cost to maintain these reservoirs and streams.

The reservoirs also provide perfect habitat for Canadian geese, ducks, wild turkeys, fox, bob cats and fish.  For example, on a 150-acre farm, if you create reservoirs to support the needed water supply, the potential savings could be well over $1.5 million in water costs over the next 50 years.

The savings realized from building reservoirs that replenish each year should be evident to the governor and the legislature.  Fish-friendly reservoirs are filled up by winter rain, so water is available to sell or use during the summer months.  The following winter, the reservoirs fill up again at no cost, and the water can be sold year after year at a reasonable rate to consumers.

What California needs to do is make an investment in fish-friendly water storage reservoirs high in the mountains so there is gravity flow, thus cutting down on the cost of the operation.  The return on investment, when taking into account of the sale of water, plus the increase in tax revenue from the agricultural products that are sold, would be in the billions of dollars, creating a self-sustaining investment in our economy and the future of our state.


Charlie Barra has been growing organic grapes in Mendocino County for 65 years, where he has been intricately involved in California water issues, continuing to recommend policy to more effectively deliver limited water resources throughout the state. He is also the owner of Barra of Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards in Mendocino County: www.barraofmendocino.com, www.girasolevineyards.com.