Eastside vs Westside: The Central Valley Water Crisis

Nervous growers face big decisions in the months ahead.

The biggest being, whether to plant, or not to plant. It's being called{}a case of Eastside versus Westside.

What's the comparison when it comes to irrigation water?

KMPH spoke with two veteran farmers, one from Chowchilla in the east, another from Firebaugh in the west to compare their issues, and found that in many ways their water problems are quite similar.

Kole Upton farms near Chowchilla in Madera County. The eastside grower gets his water from the Friant Water Authority, which services the Chowchilla Water District.

But a recently enacted court settlement takes away Eastside irrigation water and increases the volume in the San Joaquin River.{} The decision was meant to revive the salmon population in the San Joaquin.

Upton claims the settlement is being applied inequitably to the Friant District. "Some districts will only lose five percent in given years,"Upton explains.{}"Other districts like mine are gonna last 33%.{}So it's gonna be very much a function where you are on how much the settlement is gonna be detrimental to you."

Upton says the only solution is to idle farm land.{}He expects 15-20,000 acres will be fallowed in the Chowchilla area plus 200-300,000 acres more along the Eastside.

{}"It's a people issue no question about it but the problem is we are a very small minority as a population that votes,"Upton says.{}"Until the urban population goes to their tap and no water comes out or they go to the store and there's no food and it's too high priced or it's not safe I don't think they're going to recognize the issue or put the pressure on people like Nancy Pelosi."

Upton lives on the land he farms. He says if he loses his water, he loses everything. "I used to spray all this ground three to four times a year with my equipment and my men and now it hasn't had a row crop on it. {}It's had dry land what on it but it hasn't had a row crop for six to seven years."

Bill Diedrich is a Westside grower. He has row crops in one area near Firebaugh, and almonds farther west near Interstate 5.

Keeping his almonds alive is no easy task; that's because of three years of drought and reduced federal irrigation water due to environmental concerns in the Delta.

{}"I had to come up with an additional 45 inches of water through supplemental purchases and transfers to have the production that we had this year," Diedrich says.

{} Fields for row crops can be fallowed but not so for permanent crops.{}The only choice is to buy water and have it transferred to your farm.

{}"The market this year ran up from $200 all the way to $500.{} The average supplemental price for the water that we obtained in our district is in the $360 dollar acre foot range," Diedrich says.

The bottom line to Diedrich is he paid $800 an acre to irrigate his almond crop. With water at a premium Diedrich is installing high technology drip irrigation to produce processing tomatoes on his other farm.

His investment is roughly a thousand dollars per acre on a 200 acre plot.

"This hose is high enough quality hose where we intend to get at least five years of life out of it.{}With good maintenance, good cleaning, proper care we may get more time out of it," Diedrich says.

More than $300,000 acres of farmland have been fallowed on the Westside this year. That's 500 square miles of productive farm land.

Many of Diedrich's friends are teetering on financial ruin.{}"They're borrowing money to get by.{} They're borrowing the money.{}They're extending their lines of credit to make payments on their systems just to get by hoping they're gonna have water for another year and some of these farmers are 4th generation California farmers,"he says.

Diedrich says what Westside growers need is immediate relief at the Delta pumps this spring. But he says growers need guarantees now because row crop farmers can't afford to wait until February to decide if they're going to plant.

For more information on the Central Valley Water Crisis, check out's Water Page.