18 April 2015 (NBC News) – Tony Azevedo's a third-generation farmer in California's Central Valley. For decades, his family has grown cantaloupes. This year, he won't — and he'll leave a third of his 11,500-acre farm fallow.

"This field would have been cantaloupes, had we had the water," he explained, pointing to some of his unplanted acres. "Tomatoes, garlic, beans — there are plenty of crops we could have grown."

Azevedo says he needs to be strategic with how he allocates his groundwater, which he pumps from underground aquifers to irrigate his crops.

"It's very unusual for us to use well water 100 percent like we're using today," he said. "You take a glass of water and you put one straw, two straws, three straws — eventually you're going to run out of it, right? Well, that's what the aquifer is. It's a big cup, and we're all pulling out of it."

As Central Valley farmers deplete groundwater to salvage crops from the drought, water levels in underground aquifers near the small farm town of Stratford have dropped an average of eighty feet in three years, according to California's Department of Water Resources. Graphic: NBC News 

Water levels in underground aquifers near the small farm town of Stratford have dropped an average of eighty feet in three years, according to California's Department of Water Resources.

Strain on groundwater resources can cause land above aquifers to drop. Some parts of the San Joaquin Valley are sinking as fast as a foot a year. It's not happening as quickly in Stratford — but the town is sinking in more ways than one.

"The local hardware store, the auto parts store, the tractor dealership: everybody counts on [farmers] to keep rolling and that's not happening right now," Azevedo said. "When we have a third of our ranch is idle, that's a third less we're spending in the community, and so it affects everybody."

Along the main drag in Stratford, many buildings are boarded up. […]

At the grocery store across the street, Mahmod Almihiri watches business dry up. "No water, no workers," he said. […]

"I have hope, but it's just a matter of getting water here," said customer David Hartsburg. "Water brings people. Without water you got nothing. Nobody can live. Nobody can survive. Its that's simple." [more]

California Towns Shrink Amid Drought, in More Ways Than One

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