Drip irrigation to conserve water already went into farms like Fairview Gardens, and with increasing water prices, farmers are faced with a new hurdle.
Fred Owens

Yesterday I looked for John Lane at his farm. He is constantly on the move and hard to find. Lane’s strawberries looked wonderful. His kale patch, across the road in the bigger field, was laid with drip irrigation hose. What I noticed, and what Lane has surely noticed, are the small leaks, where the hose joins the main pipe.

Small leaks, a gallon here and a gallon there, are beginning to matter now that Goleta farmers will be paying more than a half-cent a gallon for water. Think of a leak as pennies and nickels lying on the ground, a nickel on each row, times 100 rows, and that’s every day.

Lane will be fixing those leaks.

His water bill is going up. Last summer, Goleta farmers paid $1.42 per hundred cubic feet of water. This summer farmers will be paying $4.40 per hundred cubic feet, which is triple the price.

That kind of price increase focuses the mind. And it seems like a disaster. Jack Motter at Ellwood Canyon Farms said he was scared. “Our monthly water bill will go from $1,500 to $4,500. We cannot pass that price increase on to our customers.”

Mark Sherman at Fairview Gardens said he was stumped. “We have already installed conservation techniques. We already have drip irrigation. We have established abundant sponge-like organic material in the soil. I don’t know what else we can do, but we can’t charge more for our vegetables. We already charge a premium for being local and organic.”

I work at Healing Grounds Nursery, a greenhouse operation on Ellwood Canyon Farm. It’s a small business. We grow vegetable seedlings to sell at the Farmers Market. Our water bill will also increase dramatically, and I have a personal stake in the matter because I like my job and we make a good product — tomato seedling for home gardeners. There are changes we are making to save water, but it still hurts.

Let me say again that a Stage III drought seems like a disaster for Goleta farmers. But farming is a gamble that goes from one disaster to another — no rain, too much rain, cold weather, hot weather, plagues of insects, the scourge of mildew, infestations of uncontrollable weeds, a scarcity of labor. Or you produce a crop of abundance only to discover that the market went south and you can’t sell it. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. That’s the only thing you can count on.

This is what I have told people. Yes, farmers are smart and innovative and hard-working, but mostly they just never give up. Goleta farmers will not give up, period. We are stumped and we are scared, but we will fix those leaks, and we will come up with some smart ideas as well, because whatever worked last year might not work this year.

The Goleta Water District declared a Stage III drought at their May 12 board meeting. The district will impose a $2.60 per hundred cubic feet surcharge on all customers, residential, commercial, and agricultural. Everyone will be paying more for less water. That is the hard news. In addition, all customers will face restrictions on when and where they can water their outdoor landscape.

Anyone can look at the sky and know that we have had little rain for four years now. The drought is not arguable. No one knows how long it will last. The drought could end tomorrow, but management of scarce water resources has to be long-term and conservative. We’re going to fix all those leaking pipes, and we will never take water for granted again. Water is life.


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