Healing an abused aquifer

Every Drop Counts on this day of 5/18/18 on the V6.
Little did I know that something as little used and more likely not used at all on most farms and ranches, would be a Sounder. It’s a device that measures the depth to water by dropping a special cable that is marked in one foot increments and when lowered down a water well and touches water  a high pitched annoying sound is emitted.  Then you simply read the number on the cable and that tells you the distance from ground level to water. The importance of knowing the depth to water in the ground helps tell the story of the care being given to the land above the aquifer.
Imagine if you will, a bowl of any size or shape that can be thousands of feet deep or very shallow perhaps no more than a few feet to bedrock and embodies all different sorts of layers, some of which are filled with porous rock and sand and others are filled with water. All together they make up an aquifer, that we can now drill into in hopes of  finding that elusive substance we call water. Before I drill into an aquifer on my ranch the water below my feet is fairly stable in its dimensions and amount. But once I start to extract the water for my use above ground that’s when all matter of problems show themselves. The biggest one is “Over drafting of an Aquifer”. It’s the one that make lawyers rich, makes neighbor hate neighbor, can change the quality of water to the detriment of possibly thousands of downstream users and has kept legislators writing laws and regulations since our state of California got it’s start in 1849. My contribution to the overdraft of the Salinas River water shed might seem minuscule but multiple my use several thousand times over and “Houston we have a problem”.
So my situation even if I can only fix it partially says “multiplied many times over by other ranchers and farmers we can extrapolate that the whole watershed will not be perfect  but has the chance to be better than it was.
I believe I have a unique situation because of the location of my V6 ranch, being at the headwaters of the Little Cholame Creek a tributary to the Salinas River and about 120 miles from where the Salinas dumps into the Pacific Ocean. This then says “that if I make things worse, I did it, and if I make things better, I did it” There are no other users in this watershed that I can point to that could effect my chance at success or failure. By realizing my unique situation I have come up with my first “V6 ranch Water Law” that I must abide by. It’s that my actions will not cause rainwater or irrigation water to move any faster than Mother Nature’s speed and if I do I must try to mitigate the problem.
Below is a list of ways that I would like to use but building retention ponds and having control burns in California is virtually impossible so I will have to put those 2 in “the way down the road category, if ever.”
1. minimize evaporation by lowering soil temperature

2. build retention ponds to change the direction of water from vertical to horizontal to encourages percolation and have drinking water available for anything that needs a drink. (At onetime our U.S.A. was home to millions of Beaver and their ponds all directing water to aquifers that lay below.)

3. fire can help to keep the land healthy and vigorous, the opposite of old Chaparral land choked with debris.

4. your ranch management practices should consider how each decision will affect the speed of water moving across your land. Slow is good. Fast is bad almost every time.

5. A good well developed water distribution system and good fences, gives many more management options.
I think, that things that you can’t touch or see or smell hangout in the category called subjective. So it’s hard for many of us to imagine something we cannot see like evaporation which takes huge amounts of water turns it into water vapor and then lets it escape into our Atmosphere unnoticed. On my ranch a stock pond will lose about 3 to 4 feet of water in our hot dry summer months to evaporation. So I think it’s safe to now acknowledged that evaporation is also happening on every acre of my ranch. The higher the soil temperature goes in the summer months the faster the soil coughs up it’s stored water. It does so by Capillary Action, a process that moves water from places that are wetter like 2 to 3 feet down in the ground to the dryer soil surface above where we all live.  My part of California which is the central portion where we don’t want any rain from the first of May to the first of November that’s 6 months of dry weather, then hopefully we get 6 months of wet weather.
So what happens on our range if we let the cattle graze off most of the residual dry matter (dry grass)? I know that on a summer day, if the temperature is 100 degrees and I find a Gopher mound of clean black soil and I put a thermometer just under the surface and wait a couple of minutes, then look at what it has to say. WOW 120 degrees but the land with grass covering the surface the temperature is 100 degrees. Well I don’t know about you but 20 degrees is a difference that has to be recognized as a water loosing pit. I don’t know how much more water is being lost on the closely grazed land as opposed to that which has only half of the dry grass eaten. This then is an example of a subjective loss. As to how much would only be a wild a_ _ guess on my part. But I do know that bad things are happening on over grazed  rangeland. Erosion will be a problem. The soil surface will be colder in winter so seed germination will not be as high as covered soil. Old grass also acts as an insulating blanket that allows for our new grass season to get a better start. And old grass will surely slow down the rain that falls leading to better percolation so now with our soil surface wetter and the subsurface dryer Capillary Action now turns and works in reverse pulling water down, plus it gets an additional boost from Gravity,  also pulling it down.
If you haven’t got a good water distribution system it will be real difficult to harvest your grass in a uniform way. For me I don’t want my livestock to have to travel more than half a mile to water, add to that good boundary and cross fences gives me the necessary tools to keep my spirits up and walking on the sunny side of the street with all my bills paid.
Holistic Resource Management as taught by Allen Savory has given me permission to break with tradition and feel comfortable learning how Mother Nature would like us to use her planet in a sustainable way that benefits all living things.
To close, my sounder shows me that even though our ranch received only half normal rainfall this season all my 6 wells have static water levels that are as high as they would be in a wet year and the Little Cholame Creek that is normally dry by the first of June is running in a portion where an old homestead once stood about 120 years ago. I’m sure that they got their drinking water from the creek as it would have been their only source. If this portion of the Little Cholame is still running this autumn I’m going to take credit, for when you “Slow Down Water” good things will happen. I know it’s true because it’s based on “common sense”.
See Ya
Jack Varian

The Slope Field Spring 2018 on the V6 Ranch