Voices of the Drought

In this occasional series the Valley Public Radio news team explores the impacts of the drought through the voices and sounds of Central California. We invite listeners and viewers to engage in the series by leaving comments on stories and by sharing Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts using the hashtag #droughtvoices. Posts and photos using the hashtag may appear on the Voices of the Drought Tumblr page alongside stories the news team produces.

Hashtag: #droughtvoices
Tumblr: http://voicesofthedrought.tumblr.com/

Please send story ideas, comments and drought related information to Producer/Reporter Ezra David Romero at eromero@kvpr.org or on Twitter @ezraromero

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

In the Sierra Nevada, above Fresno, North Fork Mono Indians are working to thin the forest. The group's goal is twofold. Save water and prevent large-scale forest fires. North Fork Mono Indians have been using this approach for centuries, but now California's severe drought means these ancient techniques are being looked at as a possible long-term solution. From Valley Public Radio, Ezra David Romero reports.

Kern County Fire Department Facebook page

California’s drought has caused many lakes and rivers to drop to low levels; but officials say it hasn’t eliminated the risk of drowning. FM-89’s Jason Scott reports on why one local river is of particular concern.

The Kern River is one of many popular spots travelers will flock to to this Memorial Day weekend. But officials warn that despite the drought, the river can still be deadly, especially if people ignore safety precautions.

Al Watson is a ranger with the Sequoia National Forest.  He says the river can still pose a drowning hazard despite its low levels.  

A new cell phone app that could help Fresnans track their water consumption is headed toward development. The app is the brainchild of a group of five sixth graders.

Calling themselves the ‘fab five’, the boys came up with and pitched the idea of an app that taps into data collected by city water meters and supplies daily updates on a person’s water use.

Due in part to a 25-thousand dollar donation from AT&T, the team has now raised the nearly 60-thousand dollars needed to hire a local technology company to code the app.

Cities across the valley are working to cut their water use under new regulations as the state struggles through its fourth year of drought. However, the reductions are having different effects in different towns, in some cases having unexpected repercussions.

Towns throughout the Valley are having to take a hard look at their water use in order to meet Governor Jerry Brown’s ambitious conservation order.

In some cases reducing use by as much as a third.

One of those is Selma.

Sarah Forman

In response to California’s historic drought some chefs are creating meals that use less water. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sustainable Foods Institute.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

In Kern County the oil industry and the world of farming are working hand in hand, but not everyone is happy about that. As Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports there are growing concerns over the use of oil field wastewater used to irrigate prime farmland.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Imagine going to your kitchen sink to wash dishes, but when you turn on the tap little or now water flows out. That's the reality in homes of many people across the Central Valley, especially as the historic drought worsens.

As part of FM89's series My Valley, My Story featuring first person accounts from people throughout the San Joaquin Valley reporter Ezra David Romero visits the Madera County community of Chowchilla, where one family has lived without water for five years. 

"My first name is Rosa Garaby. I've been here 38 years."

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

The lack of rain has hit all of California hard, but perhaps no place more than in Tulare County home to 60 percent of the residential wells that have gone dry in the entire state. As Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports the county is creating a model for drought relief that the rest of the state can follow.

Denise England’s colleagues have a nickname for her.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Last July US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited the rural Tulare County community of Cameron Creek to announce drought aid. Now months later, Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports the community just got their taps turned on.

After nine months without water many of the residents of Cameron Creek are finally able to turn on their taps and have water flow out of the faucet.

Klearchos Kapoutsis / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Reporters flocked to the Valley town of East Porterville last year where over 600 private wells went dry. This year many other towns are facing a similar plight, including the community of Fairmead. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero visits the community and finds an aging population with people whose basic needs are on the brink.

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The drought’s been tough on farmers across the state, but the timing of the little rain the region received this past winter proved to be a plus for the sheep industry. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports.

Ryan Indart moves his herd of sheep around Fresno County to graze where grass is green.

He says the weather pattern from late 2014 to today has eased the effects of the drought on his herd. Rain in December and a foggy January kept moisture in the ground.

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California's drought and last week's mandatory water cutbacks announced by Governor Jerry Brown have ignited a national controversy over valley agriculture. Brown called for a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use by residents in cities, but his order left out agriculture. 

While agriculture is California’s largest consumer of water, Governor Jerry Brown wants to increase the focus on commercial and resident users. Jeffrey Hess with Valley Public Radio reports they are a big focus of Brown’s new mandatory water restrictions.

Golf course, cemeteries and other large plots of land will soon be required to reduce their usage under the new rules.

Governor Brown also wants to remove 50-million square feet of lawn around the state and replace it with drought resistant landscaping.

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California was once the number one cotton growing state in the nation, but the drought has changed that. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports on why the total cotton acreage in the state has dropped.

California cotton farmers are in the process of planting over 170,000 acres of the crop.

That sounds like a lot, but according to Roger Isom the number of acres expected to be planted in the state this year have plummeted to the point of plantings not seen since around 1910.

Photo of Lettuce
Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

The drought has become so bad in Central California that it’s now affecting the ingredients in your salad bowl. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports on a major drop in the lettuce harvest in the region. 

During the first few weeks of spring the Central Valley usually harvests almost the entire supply of the nation’s head lettuce, but this year the supply is meager.

New State Office Could Help Poor Valley Communities Get Clean Drinking Water

Mar 25, 2015
Valley Public Radio

The emergency drought relief bill that California lawmakers will begin voting on Wednesday would create a new state office. That might sound fairly mundane. But as Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, supporters say it could help disadvantaged communities.

Clean water advocates will tell you that it can sometimes take decades for small or poor communities to get clean drinking water. Laurel Firestone is with the Community Water Center.

http://kernrafting.com/

The Kern River isn’t especially deep or wide  to quote Merle Haggard – but it is one of the wildest rivers in the state. It’s also a mecca for whitewater enthusiasts in search of thrilling adventures down the canyon every spring and summer. 

But with California mired in a historic drought, and snowpack only around 10 percent of normal for this time of year average, this year may be different. Among those feeling the pain are the many companies that specialize in whitewater tours on the Kern River, both below and above Lake Isabella.

John Chacon / California Department of Water Resources

Earlier this month an op-ed ran in the LA Times with a headline eluding that California will run out of water in a year.  Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports while the record setting drought is bad, we’re not there yet.

The California drought is serious.

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