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Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

On April 19, the Bear River Canal ruptured near Colfax.  The canal, which is operated by Pacific Gas and Electric, moves water from the Bear River to Placer County Water Agency customers and to Placer County customers of the Nevada Irrigation District.  In one of the wettest years on record, we face the ironic prospect of starting the 2011 irrigation season in a drought.  Most of PCWA's commercial agriculture customers will have their water deliveries cut by 25 percent.  Some farms and ranches west of Lincoln will receive no water until the canal is repaired.  Here at home, we will have 3 days with irrigation water and 4 days without it each week.  Fortunately for us, the irrigated pastures we've rented this year are unaffected and will receive full deliveries.

In our Mediterranean climate, farming depends on our ability to store the precipitation that arrives in the winter months as rain and snow and then transport that water to the crops that need it.  Obviously, those of us who farm don't have the exclusive rights to this water - all of us need water for drinking and other household uses.  The environment - fish and wildlife - need water, too.  A drought, whether natural or man-made, forces us to prioritize these uses of water.  I would hope that in our current situation, some of the more "aesthetic" uses of water - fountains, golf courses, landscaping - would be curtailed to help protect our ability to feed ourselves.

Our local farm advisor calculates that the Bear River Canal moves 202,500 gallons per minute when it's operating.  Each of these gallons is critical to the farms and ranches below the canal.  I hope PG&E and our local water folks are up to the task of fixing it quickly.


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