Thanks to Colorado River water and ample snowpack in the river’s upstream watershed, desert vegetable grower-shippers say they should have adequate irrigation supplies this winter.

“We’re basically unaffected (by the drought), but we’re not stupid enough to think it will always be that way,” said Mark Adamek, director of romaine and mixed leaf production for Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle. “As long as Colorado and east Utah get snow, we’re OK.”

He pointed to the changing climate as cause for concern about future upstream snowpack. And just because Colorado River water rights holders in the desert have been grandfathered in on irrigation doesn’t mean it will always remain that way, Adamek said.

“We’re doing everything we can to save water and use less water, including research into lettuce varieties that use less water,” he said.

The quest for less thirsty lettuce varieties isn’t unique to T&A but is a statewide effort, he said. As a member of the Leafy Greens Research Board, Adamek said the industry is sponsoring research into water-use efficiency and less irrigation-intensive varieties.

John Burton, manager of sales and the cooler for Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms, said the farms draw water from the All American Canal, which carries Colorado River water. Supplies so far have been adequate.

“I’m not saying we have more water than we need,” he said. “Currently we have ample water supplies to handle our water needs.”

Nevertheless, the farm has moved heavily into drip irrigation over the past several years.

“It’s just the right thing to do, but it’s also so much more efficient,” he said. “It waters just the plant and not the rest of the bed.”

Burton said peppers in particular excel on drip irrigation.

Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms Inc., which has ground in the Coachella Valley and the Yuma Valley, also has adequate supplies because of the Colorado River, said Art Barrientos, vice president of harvest. But water is never far from his mind.

“Water, of course, is always a concern,” he said. “The Coachella Valley at this point is in pretty good shape as far as water supplies between the Colorado River and then we supplement that with the wells that we have.

“In Yuma, I don’t see the pressure that the San Joaquin Valley is seeing. In the desert, you’re not seeing that yet. Everybody who’s paying attention should be and has been conserving.”

Henry Dill, sales manager for Salinas-based Pacific International Marketing, has a similar water outlook.

“Right now, water hasn’t been an issue,” he said. “Obviously the reservoirs down there, from Lake Powell to Havasu to Mead, are down pretty low. The groundwater still seems to be fortified to where it isn’t an issue yet. I think everybody will feel better as the reservoirs fill up.”

Pacific International Marketing markets winter vegetables from the Imperial, Coachella and Yuma valleys as well as from the desert region outside of Phoenix.