Planned cutbacks in water deliveries to the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points are likely to have a significant impact on the amount and size of research projects that can be undertaken during the 2009 growing season.
The research facility is in Westlands Water District, which announced in a grower workshop last week that it predicts irrigation water allocations will be set at zero percent of normal deliveries for the 2009 water year, meaning it will not be able to make any irrigation water deliveries to its constituents in the coming water year. The water shortage is blamed on a third year of drought and rulings relating to water quality that can also impact the amount of water that can be pumped by federal agencies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the California Aqueduct.
The UC West Side Research and Extension Center does operate a deep well. However, its capacity will only serve 50 acres of peak water needs for the 320-acre facility, according to Bob Hutmacher, the center's director.
Moreover, he said, the supply of West Side groundwater from deep wells such as theirs is a limited resource and its quality, with a salinity level roughly comparable to Colorado River water, limits its long-term use to more salt-tolerant crops.
"A lot of farmers will be pulling water from the same aquifer," Hutmacher said. "Our well is still operating really well, but we don't know how long that will last."
Research plans for the West Side Research and Extension Center were set in December by its Research Advisory Committee, a panel of researchers, industry representatives and faculty who annually consider proposals from UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and specialists, USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists, and UC faculty and student researchers to make the best use of the center's resources.
"We already have those decisions about this year's research, how much acreage the projects would take and how much water they would need," Hutmacher said. "We're probably going to have a meeting in the next couple of weeks to reassess what we can do."
Hutmacher said he believes some researchers will choose to suspend their projects rather than go forward with the lower-quality well water.
"We'll also be assessing what kind of flexibility researchers will come up with on a voluntary basis to reduce the size of their projects," Hutmacher said.
Among the center's considerations in setting water-use priorities will be maintaining permanent crops.
"We have eight acres of almonds and pistachio trees, two acres of grapes and about five acres of perennials in biofuel studies and alfalfa," Hutmacher said. "We can cut back on their irrigation, but we can't cut them off completely without causing long-term damage to the trials."