Ed Chambers, a Central Valley (California) citrus grower and farm manager of more than 700 acres, has never witnessed anything as catastrophic to the area’s citrus industry as this year’s 0 percent surface water allocation.

Chambers started farming in 1962 and has dedicated his life to the citrus industry. During the 1976-1977 drought, he was told to expect only 1 acre foot of surface water to service his crops.

By April, he and other citrus growers dependent upon water from the Friant-Kern Canal received sufficient supplies to produce a crop.

Today, in the midst of another drought event, Friant users are told to expect zero allocation. 

However, due to recent storms, the water supply is in a better position today than in 1977. Lake Shasta currently has double the amount of water than in 1977. Lake Oroville has 25 percent more water than in 1977. Yet, Friant users have received 0 percent allocation.

Difficult decision

Due to this, Ed has made the difficult decision to remove 40 acres of 108 year-old orange trees which have produced a crop every year until now.

“This problem was not created by Mother Nature,” says California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. “It is the result of the bureaucratic mess in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. Now, Valley citrus growers, the people they employ, and the communities that rely on a vibrant citrus industry are at the mercy of their lack of decision.”

The Friant-Kern Canal needs 200,000 acre feet of water to keep the pumps running and service the minimum water requirements of its domestic and agricultural users. While there are currently enough supplies in the system, nothing has been allocated to agriculture whereas the environmental demands and the needs of fish are met in excess. 

Bulldozing citrus?

Due to the unwillingness of the National Marine Fisheries Service to cooperate with state and federal lawmakers and agencies, an estimated 50,000 acres of citrus in the Central Valley is at risk of being forced out of production. 

“We can guarantee that if this situation continues to persist, at the very least we will have a reduced crop next year which will undoubtedly create a ripple effect for employment and the economies of many rural communities in the Central Valley,” Nelsen said.

“This is not solely an agricultural issue - this is a people issue.” 

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Dave Roberts has farmed his family’s citrus acreage since he was a child, and now hopes to pass along his legacy of farming to his own young children. 

His dream and the future of his family business are now at risk. A lifetime of dedication and investment into his ranch will soon be lost if he does not receive water. Already his trees are beginning to wilt - a sign of worse damage to come.

Emergency water

Matt Fisher, a fourth generation citrus grower, has received zero surface water allocation for his ranch in Terra Bella. Like many operations in the Friant service area, Matt applied for emergency water through the Terra Bella Irrigation District.

At the steep price tag of $1,200 per acre foot - roughly $1,000 more than the normal per acre foot cost - he hopes to produce a crop this season and at the very least keep his trees alive.

If he does not receive any water, it will be only a matter of weeks before he has to decide which citrus ranches he can continue farming and which will be bulldozed out.

“As a farmer, I have an inherent nature to take risks,” Fisher said. “Each year brings about a new set of challenges, but those are risks I have accepted as part of the job.”

He added, “I deal with freezes and pressures from invasive pests, but what I cannot deal with is having my ability to continue farming put at risk because bureaucrats in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. (who) do not see the value in the work I do and the food I provide to consumers around the world.”