Water conservation and habitat degradation

By Sean Doherty

I was hurrying through our shop/equipment yard the other day and spied a leaky faucet in the small family fruit orchard we have. I was in the middle of making a mental note to fix the leak when a pair of doves flew down and drank and bathed in the small puddle that had accumulated underneath. I watched them splash around in the water for half a minute or so until they flew off. I decided right then that the faucet shall remain as it is, a watering hole and birdbath for the rabbits and birds that inhabit our farmyard.

California is in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought. It’s very important to our farm that I stay up to date on all the restrictions, cutbacks and new regulations imposed on our farm. Scanning all the newest headlines on the drought and reading the pertinent articles is a must! At this point I have to admit that I’m a comments section junkie. I almost never move on from an article until I read the comments on it. It can be very entertaining, at some times infuriating, and – in the rarest of times – educational. A common theme among the article’s comments section, and in new state water regulations is the need for farmers to conserve more water.

I agree that, as farmers and stewards of California’s most precious resource, we have a duty to utilize the water we have judiciously and as efficiently as possible. The new regulations from the state and the public are demanding it as well. Some people are down on farmers utilizing sprinklers, furrows, and flood irrigation. All leaky faucets must be fixed, right?

Is this a much larger leaky faucet? This photo is of a drainage ditch on our farm that catches the
runoff from the flood and furrow irrigation that we use. This ditch is habitat for many ground-nesting birds. It supports bullfrogs, turtles and endangered Giant Garter Snakes. Otters, skunks and raccoons forage along its banks, all because of the small amount of water that is drained into it from our irrigation methods.

Water conservation is a laudable goal. I’m not arguing that. But I think it’s important for people to consider what they would get with 100 percent irrigation efficiency. What would this ditch be like if it was as dry as the surrounding roads? Are there times when a leaky faucet can be a good thing? I believe so!


Sean Doherty is a 3rd generation rice farmer living out his dream, being a rice farmer in Dunnigan.

He farms in Yolo, Colusa, and Sutter Counties with his wife Melissa, and three kids, Hannah, Gus, and Mary. He enjoys being in the fields, watching the seasons, and sharing it with his family.

Read more about Sean in Rice Farming magazine