By Leigh Martinez

RIPON (CBS13) — California’s drought has pushed almond harvest three weeks ahead of schedule.

“In all of the years I’ve farmed almonds, this is earliest we’ve ever been at this stage of harvest,” said Ripon almond grower David Phippen.

Phippen said San Joaquin County almond growers have been preparing for a big drought for the last 30 years and are very conservative with water usage on the almond crops.

“I think we’ve done the best we can do with the limited amount of water,” said Phippen, who uses a pressurized pumping system on a drip irrigation and the irrigation district’s water schedule to care for his groves. “A lot of almond growers used half the normal allotment of water and had to figure out how to make due this year.”

Conservationists, however, are concerned many California nut growers are digging deep wells to tap into the aquifer and taking water without regulation.

Back in early August, CBS13 spoke to a University of the Pacific geologist who warned California’s tapped aquifer could cause the ground to sink and eventually collapse the aquifer forever.

“Groundwater pumping and storage were the two tools almond growers and most of the agricultural industry used this year to get us through the drought,” said Phippen. “So we’re going to be just as dependent or maybe even more next year on groundwater for our supply.”

San Joaquin County’s interim agricultural commissioner said he wasn’t able to accurately comment on the state of nut growers and their water needs, but San Joaquin’s Farm Bureau said the county is one of the few regularly testing groundwater supplies. It says it monitors 300 wells.

The farm bureau and growers worry if Gov. Jerry Brown signs three bills limiting groundwater next year, San Joaquin County property owners will pay more in fees and taxes for water monitoring already being done by the county.

“We’re really very hopeful we’ll have exceedingly large rain and snowfall in California this year,” said Phippen.

The almond harvest in San Joaquin County is expected to last through October.

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