Fresno County farmer Marvin Meyers is proud of the work he has done to develop a 3,000-acre water bank and wildlife project. And on Tuesday, he was able to show it off to members of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.
The board, along with California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, met at the former Spreckels Sugar plant Tuesday in west Fresno County to listen to farmers, industry officials and students talk about water issues.
Among the highlights was the Meyers project.
Meyers, who also sits on the board, farms about 3,500 acres of almonds in the Firebaugh area. He created the water bank to store irrigation water in an underground aquifer for use during dry years. As part of the privately funded project, Meyers also developed a wildlife refuge that serves as an outdoor classroom for hundreds of Valley school children.
Meyers began the project in 1998 and was given final approval by state regulators in 2002.
“It has been a long process to get this up and running,” Meyers said.
The water bank can store 35,000 acre feet of water. Each acre foot is equivalent to 1 foot of water covering a full acre, or 325,861 gallons.
“If we lost all other water sources we would still have enough to farm for 3 1/2 years,” said Jason Dean, water bank manager for Meyers farming.
Dean said the farming operation makes deposits in the water bank from flood water, conservation practices and purchased water.
The wildlife refuge, near the Spreckels Sugar plant just east of Mendota, is home to native plants and wildlife, including red-tail hawks, rabbits and lizards.
Since it opened several years ago, Meyers estimates at least 4,000 school children have toured the area learning about wetland restoration, wildlife and the role irrigation water plays in the environment.
“We drive by this area all the time, but we really didn’t know how important this area was,” said Jessica Sanchez, a Mendota High School student who spoke before the board Tuesday. “This really has allowed us to gain some knowledge about water.”
Dean said giving school children a real outdoor experience is valuable for them and for agriculture.
“These students are the ones who will be making decisions about water and how we use it,” Dean said. “They are the future.”