Seventy-five percent of California’s water goes to agriculture, so drought conditions are affecting that entire industry, including wine country. As of July 13th, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 70% of California was experiencing “severe” drought conditions.
Wine growers are using a variety of tools to nurture the vines through another great harvest, all within a context of deficit irrigation (DC). Deficit irrigation is the practice of reserving water only for the growth stages of the vines.
With that in place, viticulturists turn to soil moisture sensors. As the name implies, these indicate the level of moisture in the soil; data can be compared and decisions then made about irrigation.
The use of Pressure Chamber (Pressure Bomb) technology has also gained ground among premium grape growers. This tool monitors the stress level (i.e., need for water) in a vine.
This year, some grape growers have also been quick to prune away unnecessary vegetation on the vine so that water use will be reduced.
A few are even turning to dousers as a drought fighter. Dousers claim they can tell where water lies beneath the surface by walking with long wands that respond with telltale movements. The property owner then makes a decision about whether or not to drill a well at that spot.
Digging ever deeper into the aquifer (underground water) is another option, and it has become a hot topic statewide. According to the California Water Foundation, 40% of the water Californians use in a typical year comes from the ground. During the drought, that percentage has jumped to 65%. Declines in the water table in various parts of the state, such as Paso Robles, have aroused concern.