Rice farmers in northern California’s Sacramento Valley have found a new way to turn a profit in the drought-ravaged state: selling a portion of their water supply to thirsty southern Californians for a premium price.
According to NBC News, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District (MWD) is offering Sacramento Valley rice farmers $700 per acre-foot of water, more than double the amount it paid for the same water in 2010 and a significant increase from the $500 it offered last year. The offer is good–so good that many rice farmers say they cannot afford to pass it up.
“We’re going to make a lot more selling the water than planting the rice,” Butte County rice farmer Lance Tennis told NBC. “This is a huge deal.”
As California struggles to contain the worst effects of the drought, a pair of recent reports shows the water shortage problem is deepening. A measurement taken this month by the Department of Water Resources shows a historically low water content level in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a crucial source of water for Central and Southern Californians. And last week, NASA senior scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that the state’s reservoirs are down to just one year’s worth of water supply.
This month, the Metropolitan Water District reportedly agreed to spend $71 million to buy roughly 100,000 acre-feet of water from nine Sacramento Valley districts. One acre-foot of water is roughly 326,000 gallons of water, enough for two California households’ needs for a year. MWD spokesman Bob Muir told NBC that the water the district intends to buy represents only 2 percent of average water demand in the region.
“That’s where the water is available,” Muir told the outlet. “Believe me, every drop of water counts in this year or any drought year.”
Charlie Matthews, a fourth-generation rice farmer who holds senior water rights to Yuba River water, told San Francisco CBS News affiliate KPIX5 that he and his partners have agreed to sell 20 percent of their water to MWD.
“In the long term, if we don’t make it available we’re afraid they’ll just take it,” Matthews told CBS. He explained that the high offer shows how critical it is for urban water districts to secure a steady supply.
“It’s much more than we ever expected to get,” Matthews added. “But at the same time, that just shows the desperation of the people that need it. They have to pay whatever the last price, the highest price, people will pay.”
Water districts like MWD will be subject to new rules beginning at the end of March. On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board approved sweeping new statewide restrictions on water use, including placing a twice-a-week limit on the number of times residents can water their lawns.
In addition, restaurants will be required to ask patrons if they would like water before serving it, while hotels will be required ask guests if they would like freshly laundered sheets and towels every day.