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For Orange Cove, Drought Puts Strain On City's Water Supply

Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio

Despite the rains of the past weekend, California’s drought is still a huge problem for communities up and down the state. While many towns in the Valley are bracing for the economic impact of the drought, and the resulting loss of farm jobs, the community of Orange Cove also has to contend with concerns about its water supply.

Mayor Gabriel Jimenez says that while the city has five municipal wells to draw water from the aquifer, they can't be used due to nitrate pollution.

"Now our wells are shutdown, we're 100 percent dependent of surface water," says Jimenez. 

"It just keeps escalating, it's like a domino effect."

  And 100 percent of that surface water comes from the Friant Kern Canal, which is expected to be low this year, thanks to the drought. Many Friant water contractors are facing the possibility of serious cutbacks. 

Last week the city got a bit of good news, a guarantee of water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But it comes with a price.

"Friday we had a conference call, they're going to make water available for those communities that depend on surface water... We found out that they're looking at approximately $200 an acre foot, where normally we would be paying $90 an acre foot."

He says the city will likely turn to the federal government for helping in paying the bill. 

"It's not a budget item where would could pay for the water, it comes out of our reserves, but at the same time would really hurt us because we are a disadvantaged community," says Jimenez.

The city has already banned outdoor watering in an effort to conserve potable water.

"We're going to be monitoring very closely with our police officers, our public works, our citizens on patrol," says Jimenez. 

The drought is part of a one-two punch that has hit small valley communities like Orange Cove. First was December's freeze, which cost California's citrus industry over $400 million.

"That cut back a lot of hours of field work, due to the fact that a lot of these oranges they're just knocking them down to the ground without picking them. So that doesn't go to the packing house, the truck drivers don't get to truck them out," says Jimenez.

The drought could make the situation even worse. 

"Not only our citrus, but also looking at our stone fruit and our nut trees, it just keeps escalating, it's like a domino effect. And now with the drought, possibly the farmers drawing water out of the aquifer, the groundwater, they could even go dry. We're talking about a major, major disaster here that we could be looking at," says Jimenez. 

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of KVPR / Valley Public Radio. He has led the station through major programming changes, the launch of KVPR Classical and the COVID-19 pandemic. Under his leadership the station was named California Non-Profit of the Year by Senator Melissa Hurtado (2019), and won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting (2022).
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