Big vs. Small Pumpers
As many of you know, we are committed to dry farming our vineyard and olive trees to produce high quality wine and olive oil. With no irrigation water in the fruit, we harvest a smaller, more concentrated fruit which brings each variety’s true essence forward for us all to enjoy.
Very importantly we dry-farm as a way to farm in harmony with our natural surroundings. Our average rainfall is only 12-15 inches a year. In an average rainfall year, using our dry farming practices, we do not need to apply any irrigation during the dry summer months. In drought years we apply infrequent deep waterings to maintain the plants.
While we like to think of Condor’s Hope as being in the ‘middle of nowhere’, there is really no such thing as isolation. We are part of the Cuyama Valley in northeast Santa Barbara County. This high desert Valley has been designated by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) as one of 21 critically overdrafted water basins in California (There are over 500 CA basins). As such the Cuyama Valley was required to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by 2020 and then successfully implement it by 2040. This is both an exciting opportunity and a serious challenge and we have become quite involved in the community in helping shape this plan. While there are many examples of dry-farmed range land and small and medium sized sustainable farms in the Cuyama, there are several very large agribusiness operations growing carrots and other vegetables, as well as newly planted large vineyards that are using much of the limited groundwater in the Cuyama, creating a situation where domestic wells are going dry and the deep wells used for irrigation are mining water with heavy metals such as arsenic.
Over the past seven years we have been engaged in this local grappling with how do have a sustainable system and not overpump our groundwater. We are now at a critical juncture.
Update: July 2023
- The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has approved the Cuyama Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) with 5 corrective actions which include: better water monitoring where Harvard’s 850-acre vineyard continues to bring the groundwater level down; better monitoring of nitrates and arsenic in the water; more studies on interconnected waterways.
- Harvard University’s Endowment Fund, through their subsidiary Brodiaea, Inc., continues to fight the Cuyama community and Santa Barbara County for permits to construct 3 large reservoirs that would be repeatedly filled with groundwater. (See article link below). Visit our GoFundMe site to help support Cuyamans Against Water Grabs in our effort to stop Harvard from constructing reservoirs that will hold millions of gallons of groundwater for their private use, and read more about the Harvard water grab here.
- Grimmway and Bolthouse Corporations, the two largest carrot growers in the world and the two largest groundwater pumpers in the Cuyama Valley, have filed a court adjudication against every landowner in the Cuyama Valley. They are doing this to counter the GSP. Every landowner, no matter how small a pumper, has to have a lawyer to defend their water rights. (See article link below.)
We will walk our talk through our own dry-farming practices and advocate for solutions that support nature’s limitations while providing opportunities for the local community to thrive.
As Mark Twain said: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting!”
As Robbie & Steve say: “Dry-farmed wine is for drinking; Groundwater is for community involvement!”
Here are resources where you can learn more about the groundwater challenges in the Cuyama Valley. What is happening here right now is a microcosm of what is happening in overdrafted basins throughout California. For all of us who enjoy food and wines from California, we hope this will help you know more about where your food comes from.
- Melinda Burns, Santa Barbara Independent, April 5, 2023: Santa Barbara County Planners Deflect a Cuyama Valley ‘Water Grab’ by Harvard University
- Melinda Burns, Santa Barbara Independent, July, 5, 2023, A Water War is Underway in Santa Barbara County’s Carrot Country.
Background Articles and Videos:
- Clean Water Action Video: http://cagroundwater.org/?cat=6
- (A 10 minute video describing the context)
- Harvard Crimson on Cuyama: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2018/4/13/water-harvard-vineyards/
- Harvard University’s Endowment Fund is one of the big agricultural investors in the Cuyama Valley
- KCRW, radio story: https://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/kcrw-features/the-battle-over-water-in-santa-barbaras-high-desert
- E&E News, Jeremy Jacobs, part 1: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060086059
- E&E News, Jeremy Jacobs, part 2: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060089215
- Part 1 gives an overview of groundwater issues in California
- Part 2 focuses on the Cuyama Valley
- Cuyama Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency website: http://cuyamabasin.org/
- Bloomberg News, Michael McDonald: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-15/harvard-spent-100-million-on-vineyards-some-neighbors-complain
- Economic analysis of Harvard’s vineyard investment
- Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold: https://www.wsj.com/articles/harvard-quietly-amasses-california-vineyardsand-the-water-underneath-1544456396?shareToken=stc05207e0d3bb4914b9c5f233aba90351&ref=article_email_share
- Investigating Harvard Endowment’s investment in vineyards in Central California (Paso Robles and Cuyama Valley) as an investment in water
- Harvard Crimson, Alexanddra Chaidez and Luke Vrotsos: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/3/6/hmc-vineyard-environmental-review/
- How Harvard Management Corporation fought doing an Environmental Impact Report while wanting to build 3 extremely large reservoirs…and lost.
- Harvard Crimson, Op Ed by Kat Taylor, Isa Flores-Jones, Eve Driver: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/5/13/taylor-flores-jones-driver-harvards-investment/
- Op Ed connecting Harvard’s Cuyama ag land purchase with their global natural resource investments.
- Water and Power: a California Heist: https://www.netflix.com/title/80168231
- Documentary on California Water issues in the Central Valley