Drought meeting brings reality check

FRESNO, Calif.

There was a reality check at an emergency drought meeting in Merced. Growers learned they must make some painful decisions on whether or not to plant a crop.

Two days of rain aren't enough to change a dire outlook in the Merced Irrigation District.

Dark clouds hovered over farmers who came to hear a gloomy message about this year's water supply.

Bryan Kelly said, "Of course we're going to hope for the best but we have to plan for the worst because we are racing the worst right now."

MID serves 1100 farmers who make cropping decisions based on how much acre feet of water they'll receive. For the first time, they'll receive acre inches of water.

John Sweigard added, "Right now we're talking less than an acre foot with combined supplies and a shortened irrigation season, maybe about four months unless things drastically improve."

The reason for the severe delivery cutbacks in the Merced Irrigation District, extremely low levels at Lake McClure. Sweet potatoes are one of the unique crops Merced County produces on a large scale, but that will change.

Sweet potato farmer Bob Weimer said, "I currently am looking at fallowing a considerable number of acres in the sweet potato, primarily because we don't know the length of the season that we're going to end up with."

Without a secure irrigation supply Tom Roduner can't grow 830 acres of rice like he did last year.

Roduner said, "I can tell you I'll be growing a lot less rice, practically nothing."

Some growers are worried not about their almond crop, but just keeping the trees alive.

Atwater grower Hiram Magsalay said, "When we irrigate every 10 days at 115-112 degrees you know you have to irrigate every ten days it's hard."

Some growers will be able to pump groundwater but many small farmers don't have the resources to put in wells on their farms.

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