No one is more nervous about the drought than California's growers and the communities nearby. Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of the water used in California. Scott Shafer talks to Central Valley bureau chief Sasha Khokha, who's been checking in with farmers today about the governor's announcement.
SCOTT SHAFER: No one is more nervous about the drought than California's growers. Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of the water used in California.
Sasha Khokha is our Central Valley Bureau chief and she's been checking in with farmers about the governor's announcement.
SHAFER: What kind of reaction are you hearing in the Valley to the governor’s announcement Friday morning?
SASHA KHOKHA: Well I think there’s a real sense of relief, Scott. Growers have been pushing hard for this. They met with the governor here in Fresno at the beginning of the week. They sent buses up from the Central Valley with hundreds of growers and farmworkers to have a big rally for water on the Capitol steps on Thursday. So I think they’re appreciative of a public acknowledgement that farmers are in a pinch. But they understand it also doesn’t mean an immediate solution to ongoing water woes.
One person I talked with about the declaration is Tricia Stever Blattler. She’s head of the farm bureau in Tulare County.
PATRICIA STEVER BLATTLER: It’s good news. It’s a first step. We’re not running a sprint race. We’re running a marathon when it comes to both short-term and long-term solutions for a reliable water supply.
KHOKHA: So essentially what she’s saying is even though this declaration may give the state some wiggle room when it comes to water releases from dams, farmers know it still isn’t going to result in building more dams, which is what they have been pushing for.
SHAFER: We heard a moment ago from Lauren Sommer that this could mean some more flexibility in terms of water transfers between farmers. What do the growers you’ve talked to say about that, if anything?
KHOKHA: I talked to a grower named Chris Hurd. He’s a farmer in the San Luis Water District, which is expecting a zero allocation of water this year from the federal Central Valley project. And they have really no groundwater to pump in to that water district. So Hurd has to buy all his water from other farmers. And he says he’s glad that Gov. Brown’s going to make that easier. But he’s still cautious.
CHRIS HURD: For him to help alleviate some of the red tape certainly would be helpful. But understanding even he can’t make water. He’s doing what he can under the law, and in his position, and certainly ag would applaud him for that.
SHAFER: And Sasha, of course there’s a lot of different kinds of agriculture in California. Which kinds of growers or ranchers suffer the most in a drought? For example, are dairy farmers better off than almond or grape growers?
KHOKHA: I think ranchers and growers with permanent crops, tree crops ... are particularly vulnerable. And Chris Hurd is a perfect example of that. He farms 1,500 acres. He’s got mostly almond, pistachios and clementine trees. And growers like Hurd have invested a lot in those crops. Almonds are extremely lucrative, and everybody is starting to grow them. But they do require a lot of water and so farmers like Hurd have to focus on keeping them alive.
And Hurd told me earlier that he’s thinking of making a painful decision this year in yanking out some of his almond trees. He’s already had to lay off some farmworkers.
And he knows that farmers get a lot of criticism from environmentalists and from people in cities when it comes to being wasteful with water. And he said to me, ‘I use drip irrigation. I’ve got to pay a lot of money for this water. I’ve got to use it as efficiently as possible on my trees.’
So he’s hopeful that now that all Californians have to recognize that we’re in a drought, maybe people in the cities will get a taste of some of the hard choices he’s had to make when it comes to water conservation.
SHAFER: In the meantime, we’ll all hope for rain. Sasha Khokha is our Central Valley bureau chief in Fresno. Sasha, thanks a lot.
KHOKHA: Thanks, Scott.