BAKERSFIELD, CA - It's one of the driest seasons for Kern County in the last 50 years, and experts say it's likely to get worse before it gets wetter.
It's a two-pronged problem with our record low rainfall and minimal water resources coming from up north. So now, farmers are having to look to expensive groundwater to quench the thirst of crops and people.
"Once every 25 to 50 years we're going to get a year like this," said Jerry Ezell, General Manager, Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District.
According to the National Weather Service, this was the 7th driest rainy season on record with half the rainfall we normally get.
"There's no water at all," said Jason Gianquinto, General Manager, Semitropic Water Storage District.
From outside resources, this year local farmers are getting only 35 percent of what they're owed from the state through the California Aqueduct, just 25 percent of what they're owed from the federal waters, and from the Kern River less than one percent of what farmers are normally allocated.
"That's going to cause me and all my neighbors to have to use our groundwater," said Sam Frantz, a Shafter area farmer.
But, firing up those pumps comes at a cost.
"It makes for expensive water because we have to pump it out of the ground," said Richard Diamond, General Manager, North Kern Water Storage District.
In the North Kern Water District and the Wasco-Shafter Irrigation District, in some cases water is double the average price. In the Semitropic Water Storage District, at times, it's triple.
"That's what happens when you get into a drought," said Gianquinto.
So this summer farmers will make the acres of permanent crops, like almonds, a priority, but land used to grow annual crops like carrots and wheat may go fallow.
"We will not double crop just because I need to save the water that I do have for my permanent crops," said Frantz.
While some worry this may affect food prices nationwide, the more immediate effect is on the residents.
"We are depleting the groundwater and that's a long-term problem," said Frantz.
The cities of Wasco and Shafter pump groundwater to supply homes.
"We don't know how much is down there or when it will run out," said Frantz.
But this year, the water table is already low, about 26 feet below normal according to farmers. And, with more pumping it's getting lower, which brings the problems in the fields to the faucets.
"Water is the lifeblood of this valley, and without it there's no reason for us to be here," said Ezell.
The cities of Shafter and Wasco say the low water levels have not affected their residential water prices yet. But, both entities say they are monitoring the groundwater levels almost daily to make sure they keep up with demand.