As drought drives prices higher, millions of Californians struggle to pay for water, and many are forced to choose between a life of hunger and one of poverty.
More than three-quarters of the state’s crops, fish, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, nuts, vegetables—and now even flowers—are grown in the central valley and coastal redwood ranges, and the number of the farms and vineyards in the region is doubling each year, according to the Southern California Farm Bureau.
With land prices at record levels and a massive shortage of water, farmers and vineyard owners are in a race to survive, hoping that a low-income crisis can be turned into a high-income one.
The problem is that while the state can afford to pay farmers premium prices for their produce, it struggles to provide decent water to its communities, which can end up paying the price.
In one of the worst episodes of drought in California’s history, it was water that saved the day in the central valley. Farmers, with the help of the California Urban Water Supply Authority, learned how to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers in areas that had been too dry to grow crops.
The effort also had an impact on the state’s economy. California’s wine industry grew by a third in the first year following the experiment.
In fact, a majority of the fruits, vegetables, and flowers grown in the central valley during the dry spell were grown using water left from water-starved regions where farmers had simply given up.
Now, farmers are facing an even bigger crisis: the shortage of water to grow crops, which has risen across California from record lows in 2013 to 2015.
That’s because water is a finite resource and that means it either runs out, or is taken away, through rain, snowmelt and evaporation.
So that means farmers need to be able to grow a large percentage of the crops they want to sell, including some that would not have been grown under normal circumstances.
“You have to plant as much water as you have water,” said John Wunderlich, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents more than 30,000 farmers, ranchers, fruit and vegetable growers, and vineyard owners