As farmer Ryan Casey crested the hill at his Blue House Farm location in San Gregorio, kicking caked layers of mud from the bottom of his boots, he was greeted by the gentle burbling of flowing water. In front of him, a massive, man-made reservoir was slowly being filled up with water pumped from nearby San Gregorio Creek.
“We did some math, and we think it’s going to take about 45 days, approximately, of full-bore pumping (to fill it up),” he said.
The newly-completed reservoir at Blue House Farm, which sits on 74 acres of farmland protected by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, is one of many water infrastructure improvements developed and built by the San Mateo Resource Conservation District. In partnership with Trout Unlimited and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the RCD has launched an initiative program to help farmers conserve, manage and store water — and preserve the South Coast’s limited water resources in the process.
“What we’re trying to do is build some resilience for the farms, which we really value,” said Kellyx Nelson, executive director for the San Mateo Resource Conservation District. “Water is like gold for farms. We’re trying to give these farms water supply reliability and security, as well as to the residents of these rural communities and the fish that go between the ocean and freshwater (streams).
“It’s water security for all, basically,” she added.
Nelson outlined several reasons why the issue of water availability continues to send significant ripples throughout the South Coast.
“There’s no snowpack, no state water project, no irrigation district; basically no (water) utility south of Half Moon Bay,” she said. “People either get their water from a well or from Butano Creek. It turns out that, by and large, they need that water at the same time.”
In addition to the farmers scrambling to secure depleting water resources, Nelson continued, steelhead trout and endangered coho salmon are also dependent on the water flowing through the South Coast’s creeks.
“Basically, if you don’t have enough water in these creeks, it has a lot of consequences to it,” she said.
“Another benefit, which is especially important this year, is fire suppression,” added Jarrad Fisher, a senior conservation project manager at the RCD. “Especially down her in San Gregorio and Pescadero, there are not a lot of water sources for fire suppression. Having large reservoirs like this, in strategic locations, really helps (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) with any wildfires that were to break out in these watersheds.”
Fisher also said that the RCD works with farmers to develop individual management plans to ensure that the district is balancing competing water demands between farms and fish.
“There’s a formula that we go through, with each farmer, to make sure that it’s not just a guessing game,” he added. “It’s a matter of how much storage they’re using and how much they need to have security for their farm. And then, in turn, also leaving water in the streams for the fish.”
The district estimates that the project’s water use, infrastructure and management improvements will yield an estimated combined total of more than 48 million gallons of new water storage. So far, the RCD has worked with 25 farms and eight domestic water systems.
“For farming to continue, farmers need the infrastructure,” said Casey. “Especially as farming continues to be an increasingly more challenging as an occupation out here. In the areas where farmers can get some assistance, like from the RCD, it’s a huge help in keeping farming going.”
“It really takes a village, for these kinds of things,” added Nelson, the water pump still softly gurgling in the background.
This version has been corrected to reflect the proper spelling of the organization's name, the San Mateo Resource Conservation District.