In an effort to halt the flow of agricultural waste water into the endangered Kesterson National Wildlife Reservoir, the Westlands Water District on Friday unveiled plans for reducing the need for fresh water through more efficient irrigation.
Unless the measures are taken, the district warned, it would be forced to order farmers in western Fresno County to plug their agricultural waste water drains. Over a period of four to five years waste water would back up to the root zones of the crops, resulting in lower yields on 42,000 acres. The crops are valued at $47 million annually.
Currently, the waste water runs into the San Luis Drain, which carries it to Kesterson reservoir near Los Banos in Merced County. The Interior Department has given farmers until next June 30 to stop using Kesterson as a sump because high levels of selenium found in the waste water has caused death and birth deformities among waterfowl and other wildlife there.
Two Parts to Proposal
Basically, there are two parts to the Westlands Water District proposal. First, the district proposes that farmers wait until early next year to soak their cropland, a step usually undertaken in November or December before spring planting. The soaking, known as pre-irrigation, is required to build up the water content of the soil before planting because irrigating only during the growing season is insufficient.