The rice industry is devastated by California’s heavy rains

Water Purchases in the Coalinga Farmland after the U.S. Department of Reclamation Cuts Its Best: The Case of a Poor Community

The almond trees are dead on the farmland in Coalinga, California, because of the severe and intensifyingdrOUGHT and the high water prices causing farmers to sacrifice their crops. Roadside signs warn against watering front lawns as residents brace for higher water bills.

The city of Coalinga gets its drinking water from an aqueduct which runs from the San Luis Reservoir about 70 miles away. But as the West’s megadrought pushes reservoir levels to precarious new lows, the US Bureau of Reclamation this year reduced the amount of water Coalinga could take from the reservoir by 80%, city officials told CNN.

The restriction left Coalinga short about 600-acre feet of water through March 2023, which is nearly 200 million gallons, and the equivalent of about 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The city is on track to run out of water in mid- to late November and officials turned to the open market to make up the difference. They finalized a purchase from a California public irrigation district last week.

The city’s price tag for life’s most basic necessity was roughly $1.1 million dollars. Adkisson tells CNN the same amount of water used to cost $114,000.

The amount of water it takes to fill half an Olympic-sized swimming pool has gone up from $200 a year ago to more than $1,000.

“I was just floored,” Adkisson said of their water purchase. “I could not believe they could sell water at that price — but that was actually a cheap rate, that’s the cheapest rate we found.”

“We are a very poor community,” Adkisson said. Some people out here can’t afford a 1,000% increase in their water bills.

This is the first time Coalinga has had to buy water on the open market. But as the climate crisis intensifies the West’s drought and rainy winters become few and far between, local leaders fear they are heading into a financially unsustainable future, where water can be sold to the highest bidder.

Farmers Deedee and Tom Gruber told CNN their water allocations have decreased to amounts insufficient to grow their 11 crops, which include thirsty walnuts and almonds. The water needed to grow one of their crops would cost $40,000 according to the Grubers.

California farmers say water scarcity, tightening water restrictions and now skyrocketing water prices are making it impossible for farmers to grow crops at all. The Grubers think it will end with higher food prices and bankrupt farmers.

From protests at the California’s state capitol this week to a living room full of worried farmers, California State Senator Melissa Hurtado, a Democrat who represents part of California’s southern Central Valley, has been listening to farmers’ stories about how drought and high water prices have affected them.

In an August letter, Hurtado and a bipartisan group of California legislators urged the US Justice Department to investigate “potential drought profiteering.” Hurtado suspects there could be price gouging in drought-stricken western states.

In an email response to Hurtado’s letter, the Justice Department said in October the complaint was “forwarded to the appropriate legal staff for further review.” The agency declined comment to CNN on what if any investigative actions it might take.

Sacramento Valley Rice Farms Under Siege in 2023: After Three Years of Drought, The Water Allocations Haven’t Ended

After years of drought, California has received an epic amount of rain already in 2023. At least 20 people died due to flooding and mudslides caused by the back-to-back heavy storms that ravaged the state for weeks.

The center of rice production in California is in the Sacramento Valley. The sticky rice in sushi in the US is probably Calrose, a medium grain variety from the Golden State. Nearly all of the nation’s sushi rice comes from California.

The rice plant requires water to grow. During the growing season from March through August, rice paddies can receive as much as five inches of water.

But three consecutive years of drought in the state have baked hundreds of thousands of acres of Sacramento Valley’s lush green rice paddies into dry barren land.

In a typical year, half a million acres of rice are produced in the valley. “In 2022, it was half of the normal planting, at 250,000 acres,” said Johnson.

The levels of the water in the dam plummeted, dropping to less than half of their average levels over the years. The water allocations that the state made to rice farms were no longer guaranteed.

“This is a make it or break it year for many farmers and businesses in the industry. We’re really hoping the significant storms we’ve had since November will make the farm businesses and livelihood of farmers and the rural communities here more normal.”

He listed how it has affected businesses that provide fuel andfertilizer, as well as the farmers. He stated that even the local restaurants have lost business.


The Case for Rice Fields: The Case of Colusa, Calif., During the Rough Season of 1996-2019 Rains

Colusa, a city in Colusa County with about 6000 residents, is one of the top rice producers in the state.

“We’re right in the middle of rice country. The way the rice business goes is how the economy goes,” Ponciano said. Three years of dry weather has been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Colusa County has about 150,000 acres of rice. In the year of 2022, it was close to 7,000 acres. He said that as work ceased, some families left for other jobs.

While he’s hopeful that the recent rains will provide some relief, he’s being realistic. We need at least one season of rain to recover. One season won’t get us out of this,” he said.

Richard Richter, 70, owner of Richter Aviation, said his son, Nick, had to find work in another state last summer because the drought dried up demand for agricultural aircraft in the small farming community of Maxwell, in Colusa County.

The majority of his customers farm rice. His planes are used during the April-May-June planting season to drop seeds in the rice fields. “That’s really our busiest time,” he said.


Sacramento Rains Rice Farms: An Example of How a Ranching Operation Has Remained Successful in the 2005-2007 Rains

It resulted in a lot of lost revenue. Normally, we do up of $3 million a year in gross revenue. Last year it was $600,000,” said Richter. “It was just terrible.”

Richter and his son both fly the planes. Four temporary pilots are utilized by the business. “We had to let them go. He said that his son went to Indiana for five weeks to find work.

The operation, which mills, sorts and packages rice, is owned collectively by 17 farming families who’ve worked the land in the Sacramento Valley for generations.

We’re accustomed to rainy and dry weather here. In a normal drought year, we can still supply 80% of the product to our customers,” said Sutter. It’s dropped precipitously to just 10% to 20% more recently.

“We’ve never done this before, but we actually have had to buy rice to service our customers’ needs,” said Sutter. Since January, we have had to let 30 people go. We used to run three shifts five days a week. That’s dropped to just one shift five days a week.”


Reservoir Levels in the Rice Fields during the Heavy Weather Driven by the Recent Irregular Cenozoic Outbreaks

This year’s heavy storms have raised reservoir levels, he said. “They’re at close to historical averages, but not full yet. It’s still early in the farming season, but we’re hopeful about getting close to 50% of water allocation to the area.”

The sky over the rice fields would be filled with geese and ducks after the harvest. “Instead, that time now has been quiet. We haven’t seen nearly as many birds recently.”

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