As California struggles to cope with its record drought, state officials are considering a measure to encourage the cultivation of more than half of its grasslands.
But if it passes, the measure would do little to address the threat posed by groundwater contamination, and it would also come at a time when the state is grappling with the effects of the state’s most severe drought on farmers and ranchers, including a sharp spike in deaths of cattle, sheep, and goats.
California has a $2.4 billion emergency drought fund, which was established to help pay for water, sewer, and power lines to farmers and other homeowners.
But state officials estimate that the money would be better spent to help the state recover from past droughts, such as the historic 1997-98 Great Recession.
The drought has hit agriculture, which is one of the most lucrative sectors of the economy, with nearly half of the nation’s crop revenue going to California’s citrus growers.
That includes a whopping $10 billion a year in revenue for growers of almonds, pistachios, cherries, and other fruit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But in a state where the average household spends more than $1,200 a year on food, the state also needs a huge infusion of cash to keep up with its growing water needs.
The water-related damage has already cost the state tens of millions of dollars in bills and lost crops.
Last year, the agency issued a report showing that while California lost nearly $300 million in agricultural revenues due to water-supply problems, that money would have gone to help farmers and the general economy as a whole.
And a large part of the problem stems from water infrastructure, including infrastructure in California’s most vulnerable and vulnerable communities, which are mostly located in the agricultural desert areas of Southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange County, and the San Gabriel Valley.
For example, about one-quarter of the county’s farms have water-stressed wells and water-limited sprinklers.
In some cases, the homes of the poorest farmers can’t even be irrigated.
In some places, the groundwater levels in the Sierra Nevada foothills have dropped as much as 60 feet, and in others, they’ve been reduced by half, according for the California Department of Water Resources.
And the groundwater level in the Mojave Desert has risen by more than 3 feet in just a few years, according a study released in June by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
The state has a total of 4 million acres of groundwater in the area, but the groundwater is more than 100 times less than it was 20 years ago.
“We have to find a way to provide a much better future for our farmers, ranchers and other communities,” California Agriculture Commissioner John Carmona said.
“This is something that has to be done, and this is something I’m going to be working on.”
A bill introduced this week in the California Assembly would allow the state to raise the water rate for farmers to compensate for the higher water costs of drought.
Under the bill, the drought fund would be administered by the state Water Resources Control Board, which would have a $5 billion annual budget to provide water to farmers.
The fund would also be administered through the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which oversees wildlife management in the state.
It’s not clear if California farmers will benefit from the bill’s increase in the rate, but they are already seeing an increase in prices because of the drought.
The average cost of a gallon of water for a 2,400-acre field in Kern County is now $1.70, a jump of nearly $10 from April.
In Fresno County, a 1,300-acre farm that sits on an otherwise dry stretch of the Kern River, the average cost is now over $1 a gallon.
The county has seen a sharp rise in water bills, from $1 to $4 a gallon, and water restrictions have made it impossible for many farmers to grow their own crops, according Joe Cunha, who owns the Cunhas Water Co., a water rights business that has leased land in the region.
The price hikes have also prompted farmers to turn to other sources of income.
In Orange County alone, more than two-thirds of the region’s $10.6 billion agricultural industry relies on water sales.
The price of water in the county has increased by about 40 percent in the past three years, said John Rolfe, executive director of the California Growers Association, which represents more than 30,000 growers.
“This is going to impact the ability of farmers to sell their crops and also, unfortunately, the ability for the growers to be able to raise revenue,” Rolfes said.
The bill also would make it easier for water managers to issue orders for water-treatment plants, which allow the companies to treat the water and distribute it to water treatment plants to avoid water-log