At Lombardi Ranch, a 140-acre spread in Bouquet Canyon, the severe drought’s fingerprints are all over the place.
Dust coats just about everything, from the signs advertising the farm’s fall festival, the equipment that sits idle and the fields once lush with corn and pumpkins.
This is fall festival season, an annual rite of autumn for folks in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.
But not this year.
“We are sorry to all of our loyal customers. Lombardi Ranch will not be opening for business for the 2015 season due to the drought,” says a posting on the ranch’s web site.
There is another problem, too. Bouquet Creek is another source of water for farmers like the Lombardis, but it has not been tapped since 2006, when the watercourse was inundated with a mud flow and never cleaned up.
This doesn’t sit well with patriarch Bob Lombardi, whose family has worked the land since the early 1940s.
The ranch has two 100-foot-deep wells that used to pump 700 gallons a minute. Now one is dry and the other is down to 150 gallons a minute.
So Lombardi saw this shutdown announcement coming in a long, slow painful way. The family planted some crops last year, including 30 acres of sweet and white corm, 30 acres of pumpkins and 15 acres of tomatoes, and by August the water supply was basically a trickle.
“We had to let it all go because we just didn’t have the water for it,” he said of last year’s crop. “When you grow something you want to grow it from beginning to end. I feel bad for my customers because they love to see the corn and tomatoes.”
So the family made a business decision not to plant all their land this year and shared the news earlier this summer. Pumpkins were planted on a 30-acre patch down by one of the water wells where the earth was still moist.
Lombardi got about 25 tons of small pumpkins, which he will sell at wholesale.
“What we lost is a lot of sentimental (experiences). It’s not just money. It hurts not to be able to do this” farm.
This year it was personal too, and about fulfilling a promise and a dream
“I’ve lived here since I was 2 and I’m 70 now. And I wanted to be a farmer for 50 years.”
So he kept the promise and fulfilled a dream.
Lombardi is semi-retired now and he’s about to make it permanent. The farm will stay in the family though.
And there could be some hope in the months ahead that next year will be better.
A strong El Niño that could be a rainmaker has formed in the Pacific Ocean and a yearlong effort to get the creek cleaned up could soon bear fruit.
AB 353, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, cleared a critical hurdle last week with state Senate passage. The bill is now awaiting action from Gov. Jerry Brown.
The legislation will provide an environmental exemption needed for the Los Angeles County Public Works Department to begin its restoration project on the creek.
Environmental damage along the creek has created water access problems for nearby properties and flooding problems on the adjacent roadway.
State environmental laws had blocked the project because the Threespine Stickleback fish is native to the creek and is classified as a fully protected species. Fully protected species cannot be disturbed for any reason under current law, and AB 353 is only the second time an exemption has been granted, Lackey noted.
“Restoring Bouquet Creek is a project 10 years in the making and today it took an important step forward,” Lackey said in a statement.
Lombardi said an El Niño soaking the creek cleaning is just what the farm needs to resume operations when the next planting season arrives.
But he’s not about to celebrate now.
“I’m discouraged because I was told several times this will get turned around and the creek will be cleaned. I will believe it when I see it. I’m sort of a pessimist,” Lombardi said.