Jose I. Faria
Chief, Special Investigations Branch and Leader, Agricultural Drainage Program, California Department of Water Resources
Engineering in the U.S. He attended California State University, Fresno, met his wife, and graduated in 1983. They returned to Venezuela to fulfill his contract, but the Venezuelan government did not have a job for him, so he came back to the U.S. and obtained a job with a small engineering firm working under a contract with the City of Dinuba.
Later José applied for Civil Engineering jobs at State agencies, and started in May 1985, as a Junior Civil Engineer in Water Resources at the Department of Water Resources (DWR), San Joaquin District office in Fresno, eventually working himself up to the position of Chief of Special Investigations. At one time, José had responsibility for six sections including Aqueduct Protection and Flood Management, Groundwater and Regional Planning, Surface and Groundwater Data, Drainage Management, River Restoration and the Environmental Services Section, and he was also a Watershed Coordinator. The San Joaquin District was reorganized several times, eventually becoming the South Central Region Office. Sections were added and removed, but a constant was the Agricultural Drainage Program. In February, 2017, José Faria retired after 32 years of service.
Managing the Agricultural Drainage Program lead to the development of an innovative method for farmers to manage agricultural drainage water: Integrated on Farm Drainage Management (IFDM) which involved the reuse of the saline drainage water on increasingly salt tolerant crops, including forages and halophytes, with final evaporation to dryness in a solar evaporator. The method was accepted by the State Water Board and key environmental organizations, but discharge into a solar evaporator required a special waiver to the Ag Discharge requirements which was achieved through State Senate Bill 1347. IFDM was successfully implemented on two commercial farms (Red Rock Ranch in Five Points and Andrew’s Ag in Kern County) and on a regional scale, in the now 6,000 acre SJRIP (San Joaquin River Improvement Project) operated by Panoche Drainage District. The SJRIP manages saline drainage water for 98,000 acres of productive farmland in the Grasslands Area and through reuse on salt tolerant forages, it has reduced drainage discharge and salt, boron and selenium loading into the San Joaquin River by 84%, 72% and 94%, respectively, since its inception in 1998. IFDM developed a number of salt tolerant crops that have been successful at a commercial level and it lead to the planting of thousands of trees to evaporate drainage water and lower perched water tables.
As leader of the Ag Drainage Program, José represented DWR in public policy meetings related to salinity issues in the Delta, the San Joaquin River, and the San Joaquin Valley; as well as in drainage solution settlement negotiations, public hearings related to permits and conditions, implementation of the Southern Delta Salinity Objectives, and board planning for long-term management of salinity in the Central Valley. In March of 2009, José was interviewed by a National Geographic writer on technologies for salinity management. Today, solar evaporators have replaced two evaporation ponds in the valley and Westlands Water District has considered using them for part of an eventual drainage service solution. José still receives inquiries from around the world about solar evaporators and how to manage them.
José also managed DWR’s grants programs including Proposition 204 (drainage reuse), and Proposition 84 (Delta Water Quality San Joaquin River), and the Agricultural Drainage Management Program which has funded over $50 million in research projects involving reuse and desalination of agricultural subsurface drainage water and brackish groundwater. With DWR staff, UC, USDA and Fresno State researchers, he initiated the testing of numerous new technologies for salt harvesting and purification, reverse osmosis, identification and cultivation of salt tolerant forages and halophytes and even the introduction of Argentine clones of Prosopis alba (mesquite) for the production of high quality wood. Success is difficult in the face of salinity, but José never gave up in the face of adversity. What José’s colleagues and friends will remember is the quiet and professional way in which he worked through complex and politically contentious salinity, drainage, and water quality issues that involved the agricultural community, environmentalists and water quality regulators with such skill, grace and optimism.
Looking back on his 32-year career with DWR, José feels privileged and thankful for having a great career with the agency, especially for managing the Agricultural Drainage Program that has left a legacy of accomplishments for Salinity Management in the Valley.
Now that José is retired, he looks forward to working on his farm, traveling and working on charity projects with the local Rotary Club and helping his son in his engineering consulting business. He will also continue with his wine-making. In 2015, his homemade red wine Touriga Red, won a Gold Medal in a national amateur wine competition from the American Wine Society. The vines came from cuttings of a unique, local mother-vine that his grandfather planted long ago on the island of Madeira, Portugal.