SoCal farmers fear rain water won't be stored to offset dry years after losing billions in 2022

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Thursday, May 4, 2023
SoCal farmers fear rain water won't be stored to offset dry years
Southern California farmers fear that lawmakers in Sacramento are not doing enough to store this year's large amount of rain water, setting up a scenario where crops are lost in future dry years.

FILLMORE, Calif. (KABC) -- All the rain that Southern California has had the last few months has provided farmers with plenty of water, but concerns still linger for members of the state's agriculture sector because they fear not enough water has been captured and stored in preparation for possible dry years in the future.

Many of the concerned farmers are in Ventura County, where agriculture is a $2 billion per year industry.

Mollie Engelhart and her husband own and run Sow A Heart farm in Fillmore. She says state lawmakers need to prioritize building infrastructure to capture valuable rain water.

And, she said, Thursday's rain needs to not come pouring down with a lot of inches in a short amount of time.

"So, we're grateful for rain, whenever it comes. But we'd like that it does not come in 14 to 15 inches in a 12-hour period, like it did in January," said Engelhart.

After clearing out the mud and debris that covered their property, the Engelhart's and their neighbors in the Fillmore valley have replanted their crops.

There's no shortage of water in Ventura County for now. The concern is down the road. After a wet year, Southern California could be in store for more dry years.

Engelhart and other farmers want Sacramento to come up with ways to capture most of the rain that falls, so it doesn't go to waste.

"We really need to focus in California on how to store this water, so we can use it when we don't have water," said Engelhart. "We can't expect every year to be a wet year, and we can't expect every year to be a dry year. We have to have the infrastructure. And there was money allocated in 2016 for that, so we need to focus on that."

Businesses tied to local farms are still recovering from the years of drought before this year's rain.

For example, Engelhart said she has a restaurant in Pasadena that is still struggling to survive. They have plenty of food, just not enough customers.

According to a U.C. Merced drought impact study, just over 750,000 acres of crops were lost statewide in 2022. That equates to $1.7 billion.

In Ventura County, one strawberry grower reports the damage from this year's rain and flooding caused around $500,000 in damage to his crops.

With all the recent crop damage and turbulence in conditions, farmers are hoping that Thursday's rain does not cause too much damage, and that lawmakers in Sacramento are able to provide more help in storing water soon.