Hope Finds Fertile Ground As Water Returns to California's Central Valley

Water flowing in farming community


The water is flowing again in California's Central Valley. And for farmers who have suffered through some very difficult times, including three years of drought, it's not a moment too soon.

"When you see people coming into our office and asking for work, people that had been working in the same farms for 10, 20, even 30 or 40 years, being laid off, that was really sad, " says long-time farmer, Piedad Ayala. "We really went through some tough times here in the last three or four years, so we thank God that things are coming to life."

A larger than expected snow pack in the Sierra Mountain chain and an easing of federal environmental restrictions on protected wildlife has resulted in "surplus" water this year.

Now, after long last, you can see green, both in the landscape and the economy. For example,  farm jobs rose to 43,800 in April, up 1,000 from April 2010, according to the California Employment Development Department.

Water is the lifeblood in the Central Valley, also known as the Salad Bowl to the nation, a region that provides 70 percent of the country's fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, almonds, garlic, grapes and cotton. The Central Valley is made up of farmland that stretches across 450 miles and for the past several years many farmers have had to close up shop as a lack of water had left them high and dry.

While there has been a lack of rain, others say the area has been hit by federal environmental restrictions aimed at protecting certain species of fish in the Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley Delta. Earlier this year federal court Judge Oliver Wanger threw out many of the environmental protections that also have cut water shipments to farms in the Valley.   

"It's not really a lack of water, it's a lack of common sense to actually move the water to where it is needed," says farmer Shawn Coburn. 

He and other farmers are heartened by the ruling, but they know it's only temporary. Wanger is expected to make a final ruling in 2013.  

"Under normal rainfall conditions, we're going to be back below 50 percent water allocation, which means I might have to start laying people off," adds Coburn.

For now, farmers are busy hiring workers, buying new equipment and growing crops. They know things might be different next year, but they have a guarded sense of hope for the future.

"Farmers are hopeful," says Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. "Obviously things have been very, very challenging the past few years, so again I would say it's more of a cautious optimism at this point, but there's always hope"

Anita Vogel joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles based correspondent.