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California Farmers Without Water Face $1.7 Billion Loss From Unplanted Land

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Farmers relying on the Central Valley Project will be getting no federal water this year in the latest blow to agriculture from this year’s drought.

Cities will also feel the impact of the lack of rainfall, getting 50 percent of their normal allowance while wildlife areas will get 40 percent.

We caught up with a fourth-generation farmer who is making drastic changes to cope with the loss of water.

“If you look at this soil, right now that should be all wet, and that’s just powder,” Bill Koster said.

In order to send moisture into that dry dirt, he’s tapping his wells and irrigating apricot trees off of groundwater.

“If we don’t have a wet year next year, all bets are off,” he said. “These trees are dead.”

In a good year, Koster’s farm sees about eight inches of rain to help irrigate almonds, walnuts and apricots.

During this drought, he’s scaled back his farming operation, only planting small patches of new trees, and ready to sacrifice the trees that have stood tall for years.

“So we are hedging a bet that if we have to pull out our older trees we will to keep our younger ones because it will take less water to keep them surviving,” he said.

The California Farm Water Coalition estimates farmers will leave 500,000 acres unplanted because of the drought—or 7 percent of the state’s irrigated agricultural land.

That would mean a $1.7 billion loss to farm production. With each ag dollar lost representing a $3 hit to California’s economy in terms of jobs, food processing, shipping and transportation, that’s a $5.1 billion hit to the state.

Koster says the drought is crushing some crops, and he’s desperately trying to keep investments alive.

“You spend $10,000 an acre to buy a piece of ground, it ain’t worth two dead flies, because without water it’s nothing, it’s dry land,” he said.

If the drought continues, he fears the worst—the end of a family farming business that began more than a century ago.

“I don’t know if we will survive another year. I may be broke next year. I may be out of business,” he said.

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