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California farmers cope with drought

Jennifer Collins Apr 10, 2009

California farmers cope with drought

Jennifer Collins Apr 10, 2009


Renita Jablonski: California is facing its worst drought in more than 15 years.
Water rationing could cost the state’s agricultural industry more than $2 billion and 40,000 jobs. So the state’s helping create a market for one of our most vital resources. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Jennifer Collins reports.

Jennifer Collins: Mike Young checks on his almonds just about every day.

Mike Young: Crack it . . . see, the nut’s just starting to form.

Trouble is, Young’s trees aren’t getting what they need. California’s been in a drought for three years, and the water he depends on from the state is down to a trickle.

Young: Essentially, we’re going thirsty. It’d just be like you and I, if we were thirsty and we could only drink a little bit, but we wanted a whole lot — we’re only gonna get the little bit to drink.

The state’s system of reservoirs and canals and environmental regulations is so complex, some farmers say water has become expensive and volatile in the same way gasoline is.

Richard Howitt: My reaction to that is I think it’s absolutely right except I think it’s finally starting to reach its correct price.

Richard Howitt is a resource economist at the University of California Davis. He says cheap and abundant water helped California’s Central Valley become one of the most productive farming regions in the world.

But the place is a near desert, and the supply of water is limited. He says high demand there should make water expensive. And more expensive water could lead to more conservation.

Howitt: If somebody can sell their water for significantly more than they can make growing a cheap crop on it, then they’re going to use it better.

Mike Young has installed sprinklers like this one that target water directly to the root of his trees. California has started a drought bank to help farmers who have water sell it to farmers who don’t.

But Young says for him to buy into the bank, the state needs to guarantee it will deliver the water when he needs it. So far, it can’t.

Bob Aldridge of the drought bank says the water trades are at least a start:

Bob Aldridge: Whether the drought water bank continues or not, the population continues to grow. There will be a demand for water I believe.

Other drought-stricken places from Texas to Australia are watching to see how to feed their own thirsty crops.

I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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