Epic Drought Forces California Grower to Re-think Water

Barat Bisabri stands in front of mulched grapefruit trees

NEWMAN, CA – California’s drought is challenging for all farmers, but it’s especially daunting for growers like Barat Bisabri, who is being forced to re-think his entire business model when it comes to water.

“It’s not sustainable if it stays this way,” said Bisabri, who has seen a 10-fold jump in his water bills the past two years.

Bisabri, managing partner of Shiraz Ranch who grows citrus fruits, almonds and other crops on 1,200 acres, has the financial misfortune of having junior water rights – meaning, when there’s not enough water for all water-rights holders, he’s one of the first to be cut off.

He feels his junior status every day as two of the state’s biggest water aqueducts – the Delta-Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct – send rivers of water by his fields in parched Central Valley.

“The same as last year, (I received) a zero percent water allocation,” said Bisabri, standing in a barren field that used to be dotted with valuable grapefruit trees. He let them die last year and they’ve since been dug up and turned into mulch.

Barat Bisabri stands in front of mulched grapefruit trees

Bisabri is surviving by negotiating a patchwork quilt of water supplies from other area growers, including rice growers who are fallowing their fields, a landowner with plentiful groundwater and other farmers who are able to withdraw water from the Delta-Mendota Canal due to their more senior water rights.

Every drop he is buying is expensive. “Three years ago, I was paying about 80 grand ($80,000) for my water at this ranch,” he said. “This year we’re looking at $1.1 to $1.2 million.”

With the water he is getting, he’s managing its use smartly.

All of his orchards are using water-saving pumps, drip irrigation and micro sprinklers that spray a light stream of water onto roots with —> Read More