Diener refuses to accept the fact that the Valley he grew up in and now farms will become a modern day Mesopotamia.

Solutions are available and complex. Salt-laden, perched water can be gravity collected with perforated drain pipes. That water may be blended with clean water and used again to irrigate crops. If it is too salty, it can be piped to evaporation ponds where the brine is reduced to solids. A third way to dispose of the perched water would be to pipe it to the ocean.

Diener wants history reversed using a fourth method. He believes it will be from something called Integrated On-Farm Drainage Management (IFDM). A test site for the idea is nestled in a corner of his 5,000-acre Red Rock Ranch.

IFDM sounds simple; separate the salts from farmland drain water; sell the byproduct solids to industry, and either use the cleaned up water for farming or sell it as fresh water to the cities.

Either make IFDM work or quit farming, believes Diener. Costs and environmental roadblocks assure that there will never be a Valley-wide drain built to take salty water out of the San Joaquin to the ocean. Evaporation ponds for drain water are an alternative and are used in many areas. However, this takes land out of production. A rule of thumb is it takes from 5 percent to as much as 10 percent of the drained land for evaporation ponds. If you drain 100 acres, it will require five to 10 acres to be taken out of production forever as evaporation ponds. Potentially this invites ecological disaster from high concentrations of minerals in surface ponds.

Diener’s vision for the $3 million IFDM pilot project he is funding along with a host of federal and state agencies is to eventually adapt what is learned there to the entire Valley.

The IFDM project will use water purification systems like those used in hospitals and ion exchange technology to separate out the solids, which will be then be sold into industry. It reminds you of the hog farmer who proclaims he sells “everything but the squeal” from his hog operation.

“One of the products we will get from this process is soda ash, which is used in making glass. There are glass factories in California who will by the soda ash,” said Diener. Another byproduct of this process will be an acid used to clean the equipment used in processing tomato canneries.

His goal is to make IFDM pay for itself either through the sale of salt byproducts or the water. With California facing a major water availability crisis, there would be no shortage of willing municipal and agricultural buyers.

Everything Diener wants to achieve from the drain water mitigation project he calls “basic chemistry.” About 1,700 tons of salts are generated from irrigation on a section of land every year. “What we want to do is harvest that salt and do something with it … generate income from it.”

As Diener talked about the daunting goal of the IFDM process, electricity generating windmills whirled at the site, begging the parallel of Diener to “Don Quixote” and the errant fictional character’s tilting at windmills and roving journeys. After all, people have been trying to solve the drainage issue for 4,000 years.

Diener may have been insulted by the comparison, but he laughed at it.