Farmers, ranchers brace themselves for drought

As conservation efforts are being touted across California, farmers and ranchers are making preparations to deal with the drought.
February 1, 2014 12:37:50 PM PST
The Bay Area is finally getting rain for the first time in weeks, but it won't do much to ease the drought.

The second snow survey of the winter looks almost as dismal as the first one. Readings taken Thursday show the statewide water content is just 12 percent of average for this time of year.

Gov. Jerry Brown says drastic times call for drastic measures, "Don't flush more than you have to," he said. "Don't shower longer than you need to. And turn the water off when you're shaving or brushing your teeth."

The governor is working on a plan to move water supplies from Southern California to areas like Napa and Sonoma, which could run out of water.

In the rural areas, California farmers and ranchers say they appreciate any measures the governor can give them. They also know they need that water now.

If you still wonder how desperate California ranchers have become for water in this dry, parched winter landscape, take a ride with Don DeBernardi in southern Sonoma County. He rented a backhoe and started digging Thursday based on a hunch that green grass on the ground might indicate a spring below.

"I'm not the type of person to sit around and complain," he said. "I'm gonna figure something out."

This has been a drought in which the paucity of water has gone from bad to the worst that he and his wife Bonnie have seen in 50 years of marriage.

"He's a nervous wreck," Bonnie said.

They raise cattle and also goats, from which they make gourmet cheese. Three kids were born Thursday morning. Bonnie spent hours nursing the weakest one.

The DeBernardi's are not alone in this water struggle. Just up the road in southern Marin, Neil McIsaac described conditions as dryer than five generations of his family have seen since 1865.

"If we don't get rain this is gonna be a long, long summer," he said.

McIsaac already decided to not wait for the county or state. He's found a source of water and will begin trucking it in this weekend.

"This is beyond dry," he said. "I mean, we have no pasture. In the 70s we had pasture."

By Thursday afternoon, Don DeBernardi had tapped enough spring to maybe yield a hundred gallons of water a day.

It's one small victory.


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