The Tule River bed where water once flowed has now turned into a garbage dump in East Porterville, California April 6, 2015 where residents haven't seen water flow in over a year. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
An angry farmer hurt by the recent drought has erected protest signs in his dead orchard near Fresno, California. The drought could cost billions in agriculture loses for the state which is the countries largest producer of fruit and vegetables. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
A front end loader chews through rows of dead grape vines in Fresno, California April 3, 2015. Matthew Efird a fifth generation farmer made the painful decision to rip up his grape vines to save water for the more valuable almond orchard. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
A fish lies dead on the beach of the Salton Sea in Southern California April 8, 2015. The Salton Sea was accidentally created by engineers in 1905 building irrigation canals for farming. The sea is slowly dying as the water evaporates and its main source of water of run off from nearby farms is slowing. Palm Springs, California is one highest users of water in the sate as it feeds their thirst for lawns, pools and golf courses. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Fields of lettuce are watered as others are harvested Salinas, California April 4, 2015. Often referred to as America's salad blow California produces over half of the countries country�s fruits, vegetables and nuts. The agriculture industry is a heavy user of water and accounts for more than three-quarters of California�s water usage. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Dirk Giannini of Christensen and Giannini farms makes a call from his truck in Salinas, California April 4, 2015 before inspecting Romaine lettuce which is ready to be harvested. Dirk Giannini worries ash from a large, early and prolonged forest fire season could damage his crops. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Howard (left) and his wife Donna (R) Johnson help out East Porterville resident Beto Orozco April 7, 2015 as they fill drums with water from the local fire station. The untreated water must be neutralized with bleach to kill off bacteria and mosquito larva. East Porterville, a rural community in California's Tulare County that is among the hardest hit by the drought where many have been with out water for over a year. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Broccoli seedings and a row of Romaine lettuce ready to be harvested in Salinas, California April 4, 2015. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Matthew Efird who's family has been faming the same land for five generations stands in amongst the almond tress and is very worried about the future of his farm and if the drought continues fears he could be the last generation to farm. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
A drilling outfit at a almond orchard in Huron, California April 4, 2015 will drill 24-hours a day for up two months to a depth of 2,300 feet looking for a new source of water. Some famers have spent $500,000 US or more drilling for water which is never a sure bet. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Dirk Giannini of Christensen and Giannini looks over a broccoli crop in Salinas, California April 4, 2015 "Our farming practices and crop rotations have not changed, but the farmers are trying to find ways to make the crop more efficient in its uptake of all our resources, including water and nutrients." (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Beto Orozco who's well ran dry over a year ago lives in East Porterville, a rural community in California's Tulare County and needs to supplement the city's water delivery to his home by making a weekly trips the to the local fire station for more water. Beto Orozco who lives with 14 other family members has been relying on the kindness Donna Johnson who has been supplying her own truck and gas to help out with those who have no water. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
An almond plucked fresh from tree with it's husk still on and the dry ground where grape vines once grew pulled to save water for the almond tress in Fresno, California April 3, 2015. California is responsible for all most all almond supply in the United States and about 90 per cent of almonds imported into Canada. In the past decade, the state�s almond industry has quadrupled, becoming a $5-billion-a-year business. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Manuel Dominguez, 86, lives in East Porterville, a rural community in California's Tulare County that is among the hardest hit by the drought. When Mr. Dominguez's well ran dry more than a year ago, his girlfriend, Gloria Acosta, filled a jug with a couple of gallons of water and brought it to him. She was forced to stop when a neighbour reported her and the city of Porterville who warned her she would face a fine $500 if she continued. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
More dire by the day
Stark images of cracked earth and fallow fields tell the story of the worst drought in California history. Reporter Andrea Woo and photojournalist John Lehmann travelled to East Porterville, Calif., where residents have made dramatic changes to their lives.
More than a year after the family well ran dry, Beto Orozco has learned by necessity how to conserve water at the ramshackle one-storey house he shares with 13 others.
When the taps first went dry, the former janitor would drive to a nearby cemetery, which is connected to a municipal water source, and bathe under the timed spray of the sprinklers. But more often, on days when it is warm enough, he takes a small quantity of his county-supplied non-potable water and washes himself by a tree in his front yard.
“I shower by the tree,” the 53-year-old says in a thick Spanish accent, “so the tree can drink the water.”
Mr. Orozco’s rural community of East Porterville, located about 120 kilometres southeast of Fresno, in Tulare County, Calif., is among the hardest hit by the state’s extreme drought, now in its fourth year. The situation has become so dire that Governor Jerry Brown in April imposed the first-ever mandatory statewide water restrictions, requiring urban water agencies to reduce water usage by 25 per cent or face hefty fines.
It adds teeth to a January, 2014, declaration of a drought state of emergency that called on – but did not mandate – Californians to reduce water usage by 20 per cent.
Under the new order, more than 4.6 square kilometres of lawns throughout the state will be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping, and new homes and developments are prohibited from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip systems are used. Campuses, golf courses and cemeteries – such as the one Mr. Orozco bathed in – are required to make significant cuts in water use.
While affluent communities such as Beverly Hills have been slow to turn off the taps, hard-hit areas such as East Porterville – an unincorporated community that is not connected to a municipal water system – have no choice. There, hundreds of private wells have been dry for more than a year. Parched lawns have long gone brown and the passing of each car sends a plume of dust into the air.
As dramatic images of cracked earth and uncultivated fields continue to dominate coverage of the worst drought in California’s recorded history, people such as those in East Porterville – who have had to make stark changes to their daily habits – quietly endure, waiting for rain.
Not far from Mr. Orozco lives Donna Johnson, a chatty grandmother with a hearty laugh and a fondness for big, dangly earrings. In a past life, the 73-year-old worked as an alcoholism counsellor; today, she’s known locally as a hero for her tireless efforts to ensure East Porterville residents have access to water.
In fact, had it not been for Ms. Johnson, the extent of East Porterville’s plight might never have been made public. When Ms. Johnson’s well went dry last year, she went around the neighbourhood asking its mostly Spanish-speaking, Mexican immigrant residents if they had water. To her surprise, the answer was usually no.
“It wasn’t until I started making a list that I realized some people haven’t had water in three or four years,” she said. “They just got used to not having water in their wells. Nobody was saying anything.”
Ms. Johnson took it upon herself to solicit donations to buy gallons of water and other supplies, such as paper plates and disposable cutlery, for neighbours. She is often found door-knocking, delivering those supplies and helping residents fill up large tanks with non-potable water at the local fire hall.
On a recent day when the temperature soared past 30, she visited Manuel Dominguez, a good-humoured 86-year-old who lives alone. Among the clutter in his modest, one-storey home are stacks of books, newspapers, medicines. A gentle breeze flows through the screen doors and tickles the yellowed drapes; an Elvis clock swings its hips.
A former carpenter, electrician and construction worker whose tools still hang neatly outside his home, Mr. Dominguez often tinkers with the well in his backyard that went dry more than a year earlier.
“It breaks my heart,” Ms. Johnson said later. “I keep telling him, ‘Mr. Dominguez, the water’s not coming back.’”
Full Story at the Globe and Mail