|Spaulding Reservoir (in the Yuba River Watershed) on January 30, 2014 (photo by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy)|
While hoping for the best, we've assumed that this year will be much dryer than normal. Consequently, we've selected ewes that we can sell if necessary. I think we've now had enough moisture to allow us to keep these ewes until we wean their lambs; however, we probably can't justify keeping them through the summer without some assurance of access to irrigated pasture. Furthermore, we're assuming we won't have enough high quality irrigated pasture to finish lambs this year - which means we'll market most (if not all) of our lambs at weaning (and we'll also wean about a month earlier than normal). To implement these decisions effectively and profitably, I need to take steps now (like contacting potential buyers, reducing costs to match our expected revenue reductions, etc.) - even though NID is not willing to make a decision yet. While we're in a solid position to implement our drought plan now, I've talked to other producers who are willing to gamble on NID's decision - they are waiting to take action until March at the earliest. Waiting may have severe economic consequences - the market for ewes and lambs could drop, for example.
For farmers who raise vegetable crops, waiting is even less tenable. Most small-scale vegetable growers have already ordered seeds - and many will start planting crops in March (and some are planting greenhouse starts as I write this). What happens if they plant under the assumption that they'll get full a full water allocation, only to learn that the water districts are reducing their deliveries?
I would prefer that the water districts take the same approach I've taken - plan for the worst, but hope for the best. I would prefer that they announce tentative cuts NOW - which would allow commercial growers to adjust their summer production plans. If we get a "miracle March" - like the districts seem to be hoping - they could adjust the reductions and deliver more water. Increasing planted acreage - or deciding to retain more sheep or cows - is easier than deciding which crops to let whither or selling lambs or calves without a solid market. Planning for the worst allows us to take advantage of an improved situation. Hoping for the best is not a sound basis for business planning.