Maggie: California got several inches of rain last week but that was more than it got all of last year. And it wasn’t even close to enough to pull that state out of one of its driest seasons ever. Tom Hanson visited The Golden State to see how this massive drought is changing people’s lives.
Tom: It looks pretty dry though. Very dry.
Justin: Very dry for this time of year.
Tom: Should the hills be this color or should they be more of like a lush green color?
Justin: Should look like Ireland.
Tom: It has been a hard year for Justin Fields and his daughter Jenna. But the decisions they have had to make on their 700-acre cattle ranch, even harder.
It is the third year that California has experienced extreme drought during its wet season, the time of year California should be seeing the most rain. That is bad news for the Fields, whose water reserves have vanished.
So this prickly field of bushes around me, this is actually a lakebed, a reservoir that should be full at this time of year, the wettest time of year typically for Northern California. According to Justin Fields, if this were full, it would actually be right above my head.
No water means no grass, the cattle’s primary source of food. To feed their cattle, the Fields have had to hit the hay. It is not cheap. Because of high demand, alfalfa prices are up between 10% – 20% throughout the state. And for the Fields, it is simply too expensive to stay afloat.
Jenna Field: We’re kind of desperate because we can’t just keep buying hay. It’s not going to happen.
Tom: It is too expensive.
Tom: The U.S. government just announced, for the first time ever, the federally funded California Water Project – canals and reservoirs designated to provide irrigation water to people in the Central Valley – won’t be giving them a drop of water in the upcoming year. With no relief in sight, the Fields family is forced to sell off some of the cattle that remain.
Tom: If you run out of cattle, what are you going to do? Is that a concern of yours?
Jenna: The cows? They produce calves, which we ship them off and sell them, and that produces a profit. Basically, it buys our food, it puts me through school, it puts my sister through school. These cows are basically… They keep us running.
Tom: So, without the cows…
Jenna: I don’t know what we would do.
Tom: So if water is not going to farmers and ranchers in need, then where is the water being distributed? Well, instead it is going to aid salmon runs, conservation efforts for endangered animals and to maintain wildlife habitats in the Sacramento River Delta, but even these programs are suffering deep cuts.
The drought has made it a tough year for California agriculture too. The multi-billion dollar industry is expected to take a serious hit with an estimated 200,000 acres of land in the Central California Valley that will be left unplanted. And those with agricultural jobs will pay the price along with farmers.
Governor Jerry Brown: The drought means that nature is real. The natural systems now are not supplying our water. If it continues it is going to hurt the production of food and fiber from California. It’ll affect people not just in California, not just in the United States, but even in the world.
Tom: And drinking water is at risk as well. According to a report by the California Department of Health, 17 rural communities are set to run out of water to drink in a few months. California would need about 3 feet of rain to return water levels to normal.
Back north in Santa Clara County, the Fields’ ranch is relying on the water they do have from wells on their land just to give the cattle water to drink until they have to sell more off.
Jenna: When you think about it, it’s all been kind of dire and calamitous and it’s been kind of negative. But have I learned anything? When hardships fall on a family, on a ranch, a community, on a whole state or entire country, it kind of makes you count your blessings while you’ve got them because they can start to disappear. Three rainy seasons that didn’t produce any rain. It can all just kind of…
Tom: Dry up.
Jenna: Dry up.
Tom: Tom Hanson, Channel One News.
Maggie: When it comes to agriculture, California out-produces any other state, which is why many are worried that the drought there could lead to a jump in prices for produce and groceries across the country.
For a map of how the drought has affected California and the Southwest, head to ChannelOne.com.