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Home > Feature Articles > Agriculture & Organic Production

Water Shortage Hits SoCal Agriculture With Drastic Cutbacks

Southern California orchards and produce farms are the first affected by MWD water cutbacks

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Avocado agriculture water shortage in drought FEB, 2008 -- California and the SoCal-based Metropolitan Water District recently began to enforce a 30% cutback in agricultural water deliveries, prompting Southern California growers to devise methods to cope with the reduction.

Fruit growers are using low-flow and reduced-flow devices in irrigation systems in hopes of reducing water use by as much as 50% on farms with lemon, orange and avocado trees.

Workers use machetes to slash leafy branches from mature trees and spray-paint the tall stumps white to protect bark from sunburn in the forced hibernation to come.

Less than two months after a mandatory 30% cutback in agricultural water deliveries, some Southern California growers have begun "stumping" hundreds of healthy, well-nurtured avocado trees, putting them out of production for the next one to three years to leave more water for the rest of their trees.

The Metropolitan Water District made deals with thousands of farmers as far back as 1995 that gave them discounted water in return for their willingness to be first in line for a water cutback. The time has arrived.

The MWD cut their water deliveries by 30% on Jan. 1 because of the regional shortage caused by last year's record dry weather, an eight-year drought in the Colorado River Basin and a court order protecting the endangered smelt in the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta.

From Ventura to the Mexican border, farmers are rethinking their crop plans and curtailing spring plantings of pumpkins, potatoes and watermelons. Some citrus growers said they will have to remove trees to save water.

Most farmers in the six-county MWD service area are subject to the cutback, including 5,000 in San Diego County alone, according to the county water authority. The county is the nation's largest avocado supplier.

Avocados cost about $1.50 each, and though prices may increase in time, the more immediate effect will be fewer California avocados in 2009 and smaller incomes for farmers

Most farms flanking Fallbrook's winding roads are 10 acres or smaller. Many are owned by families whose finances are less stable than those of large corporate farms. Some probably will go under. Residents fear that the hillside orchards will be replaced by more residential projects.

Farmers are matter-of-fact about the cutback, admitting that MWD gave them plenty of notice before reducing deliveries. But it's still a series of tough business decisions to make.


PROBLEM: Over-population has stretched water supplies beyond natural resource levels.

SOLUTION: Short term: the farmers and local businesses cope with the brunt of the shortage -- long term, families have to think about population controls in addition to innovations that can reduce demand on the natural water supplies in this arid region.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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