And why field grown tomatoes when greenhouses wonderfully control water and nutrients?
The Eden Machine delivers water directly to the root system with almost no direct evaporation loss. This will also permit a natural buildup of ground water as the soils steadily increase their organic content.
It is also clear that ideally we need to start at the periphery of the drainage systems and slowly work our way inward. These are often beginning highlands and their restoration as active woodlands will capture and hold the sporadic rains. This will charge the ground waters around the central valley and ultimately alleviate the water issues of the valley itself.
I grew up in a river valley despoiled by the original pioneers and what had been lost was the core water retention of the valley bottoms in particular. The trees never recovered at all and the valley soils eroded away down to bedrock. All the winter snow washed out in early spring and the river became a trickle fed by the one intact swamp and small woodland.
Restoring natural water retention by using commercially valuable trees in combination with the Eden Machine in the remnant valley bottoms would be a best practice plan, even though the bulk will go to established flat land orchards, which will still release plenty of irrigation water.
Despair as California's Central Valley dries up
by Staff WritersFirebaugh, California (AFP) March 18, 2009
"Now we know how the Indians felt," sighed Jim Diedrich, a farmer who said he was betrayed by the government as California's Central Valley reels from a serious drought.
Diedrich, whose family has farmed in the western US state since 1882, bitterly surveyed their 640-acre (260-hectare) stretch of land.
What would usually be a tomato field has now been reduced to a dusty expanse dotted with weeds.
"We've got zero water this year," explained Diedrich, 66, who has spent 50 years working the land.
Like many other farmers in California, he had to leave idle most of his land in Firebaugh, 145 miles (230 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco. Gone are the 50,000 tons of tomatoes he would have sold for four million dollars.
The Central Valley, a vast expanse the size of Bulgaria, began as a semi-desert. But thanks to a massive irrigation network, it has become the number one source of market produce in the country: 94 percent of US tomatoes and 89 percent of US carrots are grown here.
But hit by a third successive winter of light rainfall, the lush desert miracle has gone awry.
"The storages are so low, the main population is number one, the fisheries, wetlands, are second, and the farmers third," said Diedrich, explaining how the state-managed distribution system favors individuals and nature sanctuaries.
The coup de grace, he said, came when a federal judge ordered water pumping cutbacks from the Sacramento River Delta in August 2007 to protect an endangered fish species. Pumping was then cut by half, which exacerbated the water shortage.
Environmentalists are "very strong, well-funded, very smart, and represent a lot of votes," said Diedrich's brother Bill, 54, who sits on the region's water board.
When the Diedrich brothers moved to Firebaugh in the late 1960s, the state promised abundant water, they recalled. Back then, most crops were annual ones.
But "as water came more scarce, we had to invest in expensive material such as a dripping system, and then permanent crops to try to pay for the water," Bill Diedrich recalled.
"Now, we have this huge investment in permanent crops so we don't have the flexibility that we had back in the seventies, when you could just shut down for a year."
Jim Diedrich and his son Todd now own 535 acres (216 hectares) of almond trees and over 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of now-fallow tomato fields.
In order to keep that crop alive, the farmers have to buy water at a high price: 400 dollars per acre foot (1,200 cubic meters), for an estimated annual bill of 750,000 dollars.
"All assets we have we use to get by this year, and heaven forbid, we don't know what we're going to do next year" if water remains scarce, said Bill Diedrich.
According to a recent university study, 70,000 jobs are threatened by drought in the valley, where unemployment has already topped 20 percent in some areas.
"Now we know how the Indians felt" when colonizers stripped them of their land and their rights, Jim said. "We've got the same treatment."
Now fallow, some fields in Firebaugh have already returned to their natural state -- grassland for sheep.
"Some say that this should never have been farmland. But in that case, Los Angeles should never have been Los Angeles!" said Bob Diedrich, 57.
But "Los Angeles was a desert also," he recalled.