Californian farmers abandon crops to sell water

28th January 2008
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As water shortages, and water prices, rocket farmers are leaving fields fallow to sell the irrigation water to cities where it is illegal for restaurants to give customers water unless they ask for it.

According to some measures of GDP California is the seventh largest economy in the world. The state has an equal ranking with Italy. But wealth can’t make water. This has left Los Angeles-area cities – facing the worst shortages for years according to Governor Schwarzenegger – paying their farmers to let their fields go to dust.

‘It just makes dollars and sense right now’, said Bruce Rolen, a third-generation farmer in Northern California's lush Sacramento Valley. ‘There's more economic advantage to fallowing than raising a crop.’

Instead of sowing seeds in April, Rolen plans to sell his irrigation water on the open market, where it could fetch up to three times the normal price.

Water from Northern California rivers irrigates most of the country's winter vegetables and keeps taps flowing in the Los Angeles area. But it must be shipped south through a complex network of pumps, pipes and aqueducts, and that system recently developed a kink when a federal judge ordered new restrictions on pumping to save a threatened fish.


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