#9 story of 2009: California growers face fallout of water restrictions, drought

01/04/2010 11:38:36 AM
Dan Galbraith

In spring 2009,  the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League tackled water issues.

Policy protest

April saw what some industry leaders called a historic event in California — a march, hosted by the California Latino Water Coalition, from Mendota to the San Luis Reservoir to protest the state’s water policies.

Building more dams and moving more water from Northern to Southern California ranked among the goals the league intended to lobby for.

In March, California avocado leaders expressed alarm that the lack of water could jeopardize its ability to continue to do business.

Despite the drought, California does not necessarily lack water, grower-shippers have pointed out. Instead, it has more of a storage problem.

“The situation is extremely serious. It can’t be exaggerated,” said Phil Henry, co-owner of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., earlier this year.

A byproduct of the drought is that growers of several commodities have given up growing. The result is that less water is required for agriculture, Henry said, so the water districts are raising the rates for the water that is used.

Some northern water districts offered their surpluses to the highest bidders in the southern district, charging them as much as $1,000 per acre-foot.

“I’ve been in the business 34 years, and this is the worst situation with water we’ve ever had,” said Bob Lucy, co-owner of Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

“Not only is there the possibility of not getting the water, it’s the cost of the water if you can get it.”

The per-acre estimated cost of water, labor and fertilizer could total $7,000 — or more, he said.

Drought board

Early 2009 saw the federal government creating a group of experts to work with California communities facing severe effects from the state’s drought.

The formation of the group followed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Feb. 20 announcement that, based on initial water forecasts, no water would be made available for agricultural uses in the Central Valley Project, which serves some of California’s most productive farmland.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency on Feb. 27 because of severe drought conditions. The governor also directed the California Department of Water Resources to assist “agricultural water suppliers and agricultural water users” on managing water supplies, according to the governor’s office.

California economists estimated up to 80,000 jobs would be lost and $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion would disappear from the economy in the San Joaquin Valley alone because of the reduced water supplies.


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