Valley growers told to brace for drought

FRESNO, Calif.

Bill Croyle, the Drought Manager for the State Department of Water resources says this may be among the driest years on record. "It is the lowest water year, calendar water year in the last 110 years so it is extremely dry. It is forecast to be dry through the end of this calendar year which would set a record in the northern and southern Sierra."

To help growers get a handle on the problem, the Department held a forum at Fresno State to look at ways to deal with the crisis.

Growers may be getting a five per cent or even zero allocation from the state water project this year. Raisin grower Bill Green says farmers will have to rely on their wells to tap a collapsing underground aquifer. "The allocations are going to be very, very short, and consequently more ground water pumping will be going on to irrigate crops and we are over drafting the groundwater so that's an ongoing concern."

Pumping water is more expensive. The other option is water transfers, where growers buy water from other growers or irrigation district. Irrigation Consultant Dean Striebich says that can really set growers back. "That is expensive, some of the water this year went for $1,000 to $1,200 an acre foot. Which is ten to twelve times its normal cost."

Because of the high cost of water, Striebich says growers will be taking out crops and idling land. "Land will be fallowed. The first stuff to be fallowed will be the lower value annual crops, and then you move up, the most valuable."

Growers will try to save almond orchards and tree fruit. They are the most valuable crops, but use the most water. The more land taken out of production, the less money coming in, and the ripple through the economy is expected to mean fewer jobs in the fields and orchards and experts say the recovery may take years.

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