Listen to the story on All Things Considered:
Six years ago, Don Cameron, the general manager of Terranova Ranch, southwest of Fresno, Calif., did something that seemed kind of crazy.
He went out to a nearby river, which was running high because of recent rains, and he opened an irrigation gate. Water rushed down a canal and flooded hundreds of acres of vineyards — even though it was wintertime. The vineyards were quiet. Nothing was growing.
“We started in February, and we flooded grapes continuously, for the most part, until May,” Cameron says.
Cameron was doing this because for years, he and his neighbors have been digging wells and pumping water out of the ground to irrigate their crops. That groundwater supply has been running low. “I became really concerned about it,” Cameron says.
So his idea was pretty simple: Flood his fields and let gravity do the rest. Water would seep into the ground all the way to the aquifer.
The idea worked. Over four months, Cameron was able to flood his fields with a large amount of water — equivalent to water three feet deep across 1,000 acres. It all went into the ground, and it didn’t harm his grapes.
These days, Cameron’s unconventional idea has become a hot new trend in California’s water management circles — especially this week, with rivers flooding all over the state.
“This is going to be the future for California,” Cameron says. “If we don’t store the water during flood periods, we’re not going to make it through the droughts.”