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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

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

Ezra Romero/KVPR

With the drought in California in its fifth year little is known about how people’s health is affected by it. Thousands of acres have been fallowed, lakes are experiencing toxic algae blooms and water sources for whole communities have dried up.

There have been a few small studies around public health and the drought, but now a larger two-year study is in the works by UC Riverside. To find out what the study hopes to accomplish Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero interviewed Professors Kurt Shwabe and Bruce Link.

Take a listen to the interview by clicking play above.

Ezra Davd Romero

FM89's series My Valley, My Story features first person accounts from the lives of people throughout the San Joaquin Valley. In this piece FM89’s Ezra David Romero visits the tiny town of Fairmead near Chowchilla in Madera County and meets an elderly couple grappling with water issues at their rural home. 

“My name is Joanne De Freitas. Almost two years ago our well started collapsing.”

“We had Anderson pump come out and they were able to go down a little bit further, but our pump is at 287 feet and we can’t go any further than that.”

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Tulare County is ground zero for drought. More than 2,000 household wells have gone dry leaving families without water. The county has provided tanks and water to many homeowners, but as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports, officials says their hands are tied when it comes to providing the service to renters.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

The bark beetle has killed so many trees in the Sierra Nevada that officials are worried that people visiting places like the Sierra National Forest are in danger just by being there. Last week Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency when it comes to the dead trees and is asking for federal resources to remove them safely. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports from the Bass Lake area on what the Forest Service is doing to protect visitors.

David Prasad/Creative Commons /

The bark beetle has killed so many pine trees in the Sierra Nevada that officials are afraid dying trees could hurt hikers. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports.

As of Tuesday the popular Trail of the 100 Giants in the Sequoia National Forest east of Porterville is now off-limits to visitors.  In September, hikers and crews noticed a large amount of dying pine trees in the area and later the Forest Service deemed it unsafe.  Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Alonzo says no giant sequoias are threatened.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Weather in the Sierra Nevada can change on a whim. The sun will be out in full array and then all of a sudden a thunderstorm will let loose. With such parched and fire scorched land around many mountain communities in California that could mean a greater chance of flash floods this fall and winter. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports on how one scientist is working to prevent mountain flooding in the region.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

The lack of rain and snow over the past four years has affected the agriculture industry statewide. That impact includes one of the smallest farmed creatures: the honeybee. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports that with a lack of flowers to pollinate because of weather conditions bees are struggling and some beekeepers are even leaving the state.

As Gene Brandi and I approach a colony of honeybees near a field of blooming alfalfa east of Los Banos he uses the smoke from a canister of burning burlap to calm the bees, which in turn quiets my nerves.

Ezra David Romero

Despite the ramifications of this four year drought Fresno County announced today/Monday that its farming value for 2014 increased over nine percent. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports.

The lack of rain and snow has made it a tough few years on farmers, but according to the Fresno County Department of Agriculture 2014 Crop and Livestock Report the county’s gross value has increased from around $6.5 billion to just over $7 billion. Although, the increase doesn’t necessarily mean farmers are making more money.

Ryan Jacobsen is the Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO.

Susie Wyshack / Creative Commons

The effects of drought have altered the quantity and quality of vegetables grown in Central California, but that may change for table olives. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports.

The majority of olive trees are self-pollinating. If there’s a storm during bloom time the rain washes off pollen from the flowers resulting in fewer olives come harvest. That’s what happened in 2013 and 2014. But this year weather conditions were so ideal that California’s crop is predicted to double from 36,000 tons to 67,000 tons.

Ezra David Romero

The Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are one of America’s treasures.  But for the first time in the parks history the trees are showing visible signs of exhaustion due to the drought:  thin and browning leaves. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero hikes into one of the largest groves of Giant Sequoias and finds a crew of scientists rushing to gather data by scaling the monstrous trees.

Anthony Ambrose is on the hunt in the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, but not for deer or wild boar.

By now most people know that almonds use a lot of water, about one gallon per nut. Most growers are relying on groundwater even more this year because their surface water has been cut off because of the drought. But as Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports that brings a different problem all together, one that an “Almond Doctor” is trying to solve.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Agriculture consumes a lot of water in California, but so do homes and businesses. In the fourth year of drought water consumed by both are issues and both sectors have faced cutbacks. But as Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports the Central California town of Reedley is on the move to build an eco-friendly community that some say could use less groundwater for development and living.

In the Valley town of Reedley there’s a plot of ground that once grew 40 acres of green leafy peach and plum trees.   

Ezra David Romero

Historical movements, wars and disasters around the globe have created signature sounds in music. Think freedom songs like “We Shall Overcome,” Prince’s “Baltimore” and even Beyonce’s song “Halo” after Haiti was rocked by an earthquake. The Golden State is in its fourth year of drought and songs about a drying California are now emerging. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports on drought for the station. He joins Valley Edition Host Joe Moore to talk about what he calls drought music. 

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

With summer right around the corner and triple digit temperatures here to stay the American Red Cross of Central California is gearing up for a hot forest fire season. The organization is a first responder for small scale problems like power outages and large scale disasters like floods, fires and tornadoes. But as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports the agency’s aid for the first time is extending beyond disaster centers and into the arena of drought relief for people with dry wells.

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When television chef Nathan Lyon read about California's worsening drought earlier this year, he started thinking about the amount of water it takes to grow the food in recipes he creates.

That's when he and his girlfriend and culinary manager, Sarah Forman, decided to develop what they call "drought-friendly recipes."

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.  

Geoffrey Thurner / Fresno State

The historic California drought is now affecting college campuses in the region. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports.

Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agriculture Sciences and Technology plans to cut its water use by at least 25 percent this year on its 1,000-acre farm. 

To reach their goal Farm Coordinator Mark Salwasser says the college plans to fallow just over 10 percent of their land.

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.