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Group taps technology to solve P.V. groundwater deficit

Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel

WATSONVILLE - When raspberry grower John Eiskamp wants to know how much water his crop needs, he consults his iPad.

With his system of strategically placed soil probes and a wireless tower for transmitting data, he could use a smart phone or the computer in his office just as easily.

In the three years since he placed the first probe, Eiskamp estimates he's cut water use by 20 percent.

The system will be more readily available to other growers thanks to a wireless transmission network being built throughout the Pajaro Valley.

"We can better understand what the plants needs are, and better use water," Eiskamp told the 60 people who toured his Holohan Ranch on Tuesday.

The tour aimed to showcase projects advocated by a group known as the Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogue. Comprised of growers, landowners and community members concerned about the Pajaro Valley's long-standing problem of groundwater overdraft, the group has been meeting since July 2010 to discuss possible solutions. But now, the group says, it's at a turning point.

"It's not about talk anymore, it's about doing it," said member Chuck Allen.

What will be a network of 18 base stations and repeaters will require an investment of $90,000 to $100,000 and is being funded through grants and donations. Eiskamp bought his base station, for example, but will allow its use as part of the network.

The tour also stopped at a farm off Silliman Road to look at a pilot project in groundwater recharge. Storm runoff that once drained through berry fields and ditches to the Pajaro River is being diverted to a 3-acre basin where it percolates into the aquifer.

UC Santa Cruz hydrogeology professor Andy Fisher said the system drains 120 acres. That means a storm that dumps 6 inches of rain could result in 60 acre feet of water for recharge. That's not even close to closing an average annual deficit of 12,000 acre feet of water, but it's a start, Fisher said. He envisions similar recharge basins created throughout the Pajaro Valley in the next decade or so.

"With enough projects of this kind you might see real benefit throughout the (groundwater) basin," Fisher said.

While the projects are only a piece of the overall solutions, and maybe a small piece at that, they are relatively low cost when other options might include pipelines and desalination plants.

And the group says just the fact that people are talking about the historically contentious issue of groundwater depletion is an accomplishment.

"The issue is real, and it's been going on for a long time," said Kelley Bell of Driscoll's. "We all need to work on solutions."

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