Thirty-five years ago Don Cameron noticed vineyards which were flooded by an overflowing San Joaquin River. The Los Angeles Times found that Cameron kept an eye on the vineyards as they marinated in floodwater, while wondering if having constantly wet roots would harm future crops.
His question was answered that September when "the vines bore healthy fruit and . . . pickers harvested the grapes." Cameron told the Times, "I thought 'OK' and filed it away."
His observation is paying dividends for the state today as it deals with record floodwaters from winter precipitation. Cameron is diverting water from a nearby flood-control channel and using it to flood olive groves, baby pistachio trees, alfalfa, and Barbera grapes he supervises at Terranova Ranch. He’s putting Kings River floodwater on approximately 700 acres.
The reason? Using a 24-inch pipe that diverts 10,000 gal per minute, Cameron is recharging the San Joaquin Valley aquifer at a rate of 3 to 4 inches per day, as the floodwater he’s corralled seeps through the soil into the aquifer. As he told the Times," We have a great reservoir under our feet. Why not use it?" Although to be accurate, farmers already use the aquifer — what they don’t do is restore it.
There are a number of problems associated with the overuse of an aquifer, with pumping it dry being among the worst. Then, according to the expert you consult, overuse can cause a variety of calamities. As I wrote earlier here some experts say pumping out too much water can cause the land to sink as much as one foot each year, wreaking havoc on roads and infrastructure.
Other doomsayers contend over-pumping "unburdens the lithosphere" and the ground bounces up. Either way it’s supposed to contribute to earthquakes.
Cameron’s idea can help prevent bouncing and sinking. He stared testing his theory in a private pilot project in the 1990’s and in 2011 he flooded his vineyards well into the growth season without any problems.
Naturally someone this visionary attracted negative attention from fellow growers. Cameron has been called a communist and like skeptics of the Wright brothers, he was told his idea was all wet.
Fortunately he persisted and the success of his small project persuaded the state to contribute to a $7.5 million groundwater replenishment project which is projected to intentionally flood 16,000 acres. His test proved that 70 percent of the water diverted to the fields made its way down into the aquifer.
I certainly hope the larger project is a success. California politicians have proven incapable of storing water above ground; maybe they’ll have better luck doing so below ground.
Michael Reagan, the eldest son of President Reagan, is a Newsmax TV analyst. A syndicated columnist and author, he chairs The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Michael is an in-demand speaker with Premiere speaker’s bureau. Read more reports from Michael Reagan — Go Here Now.