"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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SLO County farmers boost water-saving efforts as drought continues

Originally published in SanLuisObispo.com

By John Lindsey

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Robert Meyer holds irrigation drip tape in a Talley Farms spinach field.

The water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at unprecedented low levels.

The snowpack supplies about a third of the water needed by the state’s residents, industry and agriculture, so the drought has had far-reaching impacts on all of us, but especially on the agricultural community.

Carlos Sanchez has never seen it so dry over his 44 years as an agriculturalist along the Central Coast.

“I’ve never seen four consecutive years of drought,” he said.

Since 1984 Sanchez has worked at Tally Farms located in the iconic Arroyo Grande Valley along Lopez Drive between San Luis Obispo and Lake Lopez. Talley Farms was founded by Oliver Talley in 1948 and is now operated by multiple generations of the Talley family.

They grow, harvest, pack, and ship high-quality vegetables locally and worldwide. The farm’s most abundant crops are bell peppers, spinach, Napa cabbage and cilantro. In fact, they are one of the largest growers of bell peppers in the state. Talley is also known for award-winning chardonnays and pinot noir wines.

Over the decades, the folks at Tally Farms have learned to conserve precious water. Back in the mid-1980s they installed drip irrigation. Today they use drip tape irrigation to deliver water directly to the plant’s roots. Drip tape is an industrial-strength version of the garden drip hose that can run for hundreds of feet.

To further save water, they’ve installed pressure compensated drip tape lines, which insures that each plant receives an equal amount of water along their lengthy runs. In other words, the plants at the beginning of the line aren’t over irrigated due to higher water pressure, while plants at the end don’t wilt under the sun due the lack of moisture.

They’ve also reduced drip line spacing to more evenly water their crops and mostly irrigate at night or when it’s foggy to help reduce evaporation.

All these methods have dramatically reduced the amount of water needed to grow their crops.

With that being said, it has become more difficult for farmers and ranchers throughout the state to acquire the water they need. Many have been forced to dig deeper wells. Not only is this an expensive proposition that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but after the well is dug, it can take significantly more energy to pump water to the earth’s surface.

Claire Braico who works for PG&E as an engineering supervisor for Customer Energy Solutions and is a Cal Poly graduate in mechanical engineering, told me, “In general, the amount of energy required to lift a gallon of water is proportional to how many feet you lift it.”

For example, it would take twice the amount of energy to lift a gallon of water from a 500 foot well rather than a 250 foot well. However, as the water table levels change, the efficiency of the well pumps can be reduced, further increasing the amount energy needed to pump water.

“Alternatively, if you re-drill the well and select a new pump that meets the new water table depth, you can maintain the pump efficiency, and the energy costs will remain linear, assuming the motor efficiency did not change,” Braico said.

Needless to say, PG&E has seen a dramatic increase in requests for new or additional pumping service.

Pat Mullen, a PG&E director who leads the company’s Ag Task Force, encourages farmers who are seeking new or additional pumping services to apply early at www.pge/customerconnections.

PG&E has a range of energy efficiency programs and incentives to help agricultural and other customers reduce their water and energy usage, and therefore their costs. PG&E has increased rebates an additional 33 percent for the Advanced Pumping Efficiency Program. The utility also has created and launched a new program for small and medium agriculture customers who want to install low-flow irrigation nozzles or convert sprinklers to drip irrigation.

PG&E also offers incentives for more efficient cooling components that cool fruit, vegetables, milk and wine. To lean more, please call the Agricultural Customer Service Center at 1-877-311-FARM (3276) or visit pge.com/ag.