From: John McChesney, NPR
Published May 11, 2009 09:12 AM

Drought, Politics Trouble Farmers In California

California is in its third year of drought, and many farmers in the state's crop-rich Central Valley are looking at dusty fields, or worse, are cutting down their orchards before the trees die.

Hardest hit is Westlands, the biggest irrigated region in the country, where much of the nation's fruit, nuts and produce come from. This year, farmers have been told they are getting only a small fraction of the water they need.


Farmers throughout this region echo the sentiment that politics, not the drought, is the problem. Most of California gets its water from a huge estuary called the Delta, where two big rivers join in the center of the valley. But so much water was being pumped out of the Delta that a tiny smelt there, an endangered species, is disappearing. So late last year, a federal judge ruled that the amount of water being delivered to the south had to be sharply cut back.


In April, in a sweltering tin shed in the middle of the Westland's water district, about 200 farmers gathered to hear what Tom Birmingham had to say about the crisis. Birmingham is the executive director of the irrigation district. Yes, the drought is a problem, he says, but he believes the much bigger problem is that court ruling.

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