NPR’s All Things Considered delved yesterday into the effect that water cutbacks are having on farmers in San Diego County.

Farmers have been getting 30 percent less water from the Metropolitan Water District since Jan. 1, a move designed to lessen the impacts of court-ordered reductions in the water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The NPR story gives some interesting context about why farmers are in this position:

The cutbacks have their roots in California’s last big drought, which took place in the late 1980s and early ’90s. After that, the Metropolitan Water District invested in big water-storage projects, and to pay for them, it doubled water prices over a short time.

To keep their businesses afloat, most farmers made a kind of “deal with the devil.”

“The deal was that, in exchange for a discount on the water rate, we would be willing to take the first cutbacks in an emergency situation,” says Al Stehly, who manages about 450 acres of avocado trees for himself and other landowners in the county. …

In the heat of the summer, he gives each tree about 300 gallons of water, and his water bills run $14,000 a month.

Because of the 30 percent cut in water supply, Stehly plans to take chainsaws to about 1,200 trees — a quarter of his grove. He will cut them down to about four feet tall and try to keep the stumps alive by giving them about a tenth of the water they usually need.


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