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California wells are running dry: “People are … going to lose access to drinking

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In O’Brien’s Glenn County, the board of supervisors enacted a drilling moratorium for new agricultural wells through the end of next June

The region’s farmers are feeling the pain of the overdrafted groundwater. But they urged a more targeted approach to a ban, only in the areas suffering severe depletion. 

“This county would not really exist if it wasn’t for ag,” said Matt Lohse, who told the Board of Supervisors he’s proud to be a Glenn County farmer. “My dad is actually going to have to drill a new house well, currently he’s fighting to be able to irrigate … I get it. I understand the impact in Glenn County.” 

Mike Vereschagin, who grows almonds and prunes around Orland and Artois, told CalMatters that he doesn’t have enough surface water and his wells are producing less during the drought, so he had to start buying water from other growers and irrigation districts. Without it, “I wouldn’t have enough to irrigate all my orchards after harvest, do some of the post-harvest irrigation which is critical for setting next year’s crop,” he said. 

Ritta Martin, a sixth-generation rancher and president of the Glenn County Farm Bureau, worries about California’s endless cycles of drought.

“It just seems like there’s been more dry years than not, in recent memory,” she said. In dry years, “the groundwater can’t sustain all of the orchards and other irrigated crops that we have in the area.

“It’s scary to think about.”

Driving down county roads in her Ford F-150, O’Brien can tell which of her neighbors are out of water by the plastic storage tanks erupting from their yards. She points out rows of trees where there had once been a dairy or a hayfield. 

O’Brien lives on the same lot on the outskirts of Orland that her parents bought in the late 1960s, when she was a child. She’s worked as a hair stylist and bartender and raised four children, and she now lives in a mobile home on her land while her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren occupy the main house. 

Her parents moved to the Sacramento Valley from Chicago, drawn by the slower pace of a  community created by irrigated agriculture. In the early 1900s, enticed by advertisements promising “Water available and in abundance at all seasons of the year,” farmers transformed Glenn County, contributing more than $1 billion a year to the economy and providing one in three jobs. 

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