State to use satellites to eye unplanted fields

Jun 2, 2015 6:24 PM by Associated Press, Photo: CDWR

State water officials say they will use satellite surveillance from high above farms in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta as one way of confirming that fields have been left fallow under voluntary conservation agreements with farmers.

Growers with some of the strongest water rights in the delta east of San Francisco offered to reduce their water consumption this summer by 25 percent through several means that include leaving some land unplanted.

In exchange, the state agreed to spare the farmers deeper mandatory cuts later in the year.

Michael George, the delta water master, said Tuesday that officials will review satellite imagery taken every 16 days in addition to making site inspections of farms and requesting copies of irrigation schedules.

However, he says it's not an attempt to weed out cheaters.

"We want to monitor and figure out what all this effort means in terms of relief to the water system," George said.

More than 200 farmers had agreed to the program by a Monday deadline. It was unclear what percentage of delta farmers that figure represents.

Among other things, farmers intend to reduce crops such as alfalfa and plant crops that grow faster such as silage corn for livestock feed rather than corn eaten by people. Farmers say they will irrigate some crops once a month rather than twice.

"There's a great deal of creativity and management sophistication that's going into these plans," George said.


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