Drought leaves California farmers choosing which crops get water and which wither

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Published February 25, 2014

| FoxNews.com

A federal agency's recent announcement that the California’s Central Valley will get zero percent water allocation this year was devastating for farmers already dealing with the worst drought seen in decades.

One of the world's most productive agricultural regions, the enormous valley is reeling after the driest year in more than a century. But last week, the Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, which supplies water to a third of the irrigated farmland in California through a 500-mile network of canals and tunnel, said it won’t be able to deliver any of the water sought by farmers.

“It goes beyond devastation, you're going to see farms that have been in business 30 and 40 years, they do not have any water, they are out of business,” said Dennis Falaschi, general manager of the Panoche Water District.

The drought, combined with continued protections for endangered species, has forced farmers to find alternatives. Most farmers have already switched to drip irrigation, which is much more efficient than the flood irrigation technique used when water was plentiful. But it still may not be enough, as farmers are now choosing which crops to water - and which to let wither.

"This farm's been here for over 90 years and we recognize that Mother Nature throws a drought occasionally and so we made the decision not to plant more than a third of this farm,” says Mike Stearns, a Central Valley Farmer.

The same goes for Shawn Stevenson, owner of Harlan Ranch and a third generation grower, who plans to bulldoze a third of his family farm.

“We've been cutting back and trying to save a little more water every year and now with this year we're probably going to have enough water for about 35 to 40 percent of the crops,” Stevenson said.

In the West Valley, two groundbreaking desalinization projects are underway. WaterFX's pilot program is using solar power to heat groundwater that is otherwise unusable.

“What this is going to allow farmers to do is actually reuse the water that they have and control the quality of the groundwater,” said Aaron Mandell, WaterFX’s founder.

A reverse osmosis plant is in the works nearby.

“That could have a real long term benefit for the area in actually generating some usable water,” Stearns said.

There is a bit of good news for California farmers. Two storms are expected later this week. But farmers tell Fox News any precipitation they get won’t come close to getting them out of the drought.

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http://www.foxnews.com/weather/2014/02/25/drought-leaves-california-farmers-choosing-which-crops-get-water-and-which/