YOU tell Allstate they can’t draw from the San Joaquin River to water the almonds they planted in the last couple of years west of Modesto — a modest little project — modest if you have a basket of billions. Though some think $28,000,000 is more than modest.
If you use Highway 132 to go west from Modesto, you probably have noticed a big change to farmland just west of the bridge over the San Joaquin River, where two parcels straddle River Road and where Caltrans recently installed signals.
You used to see little raptors perched on white standpipes surveying the fields for furry little snacks. Great and Snowy Egrets prowled the ground looking for food of their own. First, the standpipes disappeared, then the land was leveled and underground piping was laid. Soon, it became clear that drip irrigation would replace the siphon-and-flood system. Then a pattern of sticks appeared, each protected by a little “milk carton” labeled “Duarte.”
Yep, Allstate was among those rushing to plant almonds.
Through a Delaware LLC, NBINV6 AP, registered in California in late 2018, Allstate bought about 1,200 acres on both sides of River Road and on the north side of Highway 132, the newly signalized intersection.
There are two parcels in that 1,200 acres and the value, and purchase price, were right at $26,000,000. The cost of putting in the drip system and of the trees themselves probably bumped the total investment to near the $28,000,000 mark.
The trees alone probably cost over $1,000,000, given the usual spacing of 120 or more trees per acre. The place looks almost manicured. A line of what appears to be olive trees serve as a buffer to the highway.
One attractive aspect to that land was the right to draw water from the San Joaquin River, according to farmers familiar with the system, which had been used to grow a variety of crops on those two parcels.
Well, Tuesday, August 3, state water regulators began imposing a moratorium on drawing from the rivers and streams which flow into the delta. The Tuolumne River runs from Don Pedro Dam out across the valley connecting with the San Joaquin just a few miles before crossing under Highway 132. The San Joaquin is one of two main rivers feeding the delta.
So, unless there is water from other sources, Allstate’s trees, near their first season of production, are in danger. That is true for many farmers and growers along all of the rivers and streams flowing, ultimately, into the Delta, from just north of Fresno on the south all the way almost to the Oregon border on the north.
We don’t know whether Allstate has wells on its property or not, but it could be that Allstate is counting on groundwater to pull it through the drought moratorium. Several years ago, owners of the Mapes Ranch, on the opposite side of the river from Allstate’s land, drilled wells and planted almonds. The wells, like all wells near rivers, draw groundwater produced by the river itself. Reliable groundwater production near rivers is another reason riparian property is so highly valued.
Allstate’s toe-dip into almond growing is just another among the most obvious examples of what the current drought hath wrought. And it is more evidence that the value of local water continues to be transferred farther and farther from home as investors and speculators buy into the almond boom.