A close shave with Terra Bella drought. Fred Lujan, 68, was dreaming of a retirement as a gentleman farmer tending his pistachio trees. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

By Diana Marcum
4 July 2014

TERRA BELLA (Los Angeles Times) – At first they called Fred Lujan a gentleman farmer.

The retired barber washed his tractor every night and parked it in the garage, a source of gentle amusement to the veteran growers around him. He called his pistachio trees his babies, his girls, and gave them names.

"Come on, Suzanne," he'd say to his wife in the evenings. "Let's have a glass of wine and sit outside and watch our girls grow." […]

Then a man from the irrigation district came and sealed off Lujan's water meter. A green tag read "No Irrigation Water Is Available This Year." There was a $10,000 fine for breaking the seal.

For the first time in the more than half a century that the federal government had been diverting Sierra Nevada water to farmers, there would be no deliveries to most Central Valley irrigation districts. In the third year of drought, there wasn't enough water to go around.

It was a blow to the entire region, but a possible death knell to Terra Bella, whose pistachio and citrus groves are watered only by rain and the government's canals.

"How am I supposed to just sit here and watch everything turn brown and die?" asked Lujan, 68.

Still, it was February and pistachio trees are drought-resistant. It just had to rain during March and April. He was sure it would. […]

Back when Lujan still had his barber shop, one of his clients was a lifelong farmer, Mike Smith. He had always liked Smith because he had a big laugh and a hard handshake. […]

"I see the dying trees, the burned-out shrubs. I talk to all the other Freds — there are a lot of them," he said. "My fear — and it's a real fear — is that if it doesn't rain next year, this valley will face a reality that will rival the Great Depression." [more]

California drought imperils a dream



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