During Mark McBroom’s 40 years of farming in the Imperial Valley, he’s had to adapt to changing climate conditions and water availability.
After California, Arizona and Nevada came to an agreement in May to reduce their Colorado River water usage, McBroom may soon have to adapt again.
Imperial County is the driest in California, only getting 2 to 3 inches of rainfall every year. So, farmers in the region get the vast majority of their water from the Colorado River.
Because of climate change induced droughts, the river’s flow has dropped by 20% over the past century. The drop in water levels forced states dependent on the river to negotiate conservation measures to ensure the longevity of the river system.
Because Imperial County farmers receive 80% of California’s allotment of Colorado River water, focus turned to them to cutback on their usage, which farmers like McBroom say is harmful to their businesses which grow two-thirds of the vegetables eaten by Americans in the winter.
“If the cuts were mandatory, and we were to lose another 8% of our water, you would have significant fields that are not being farmed,” McBroom said.
Legally enforcing cuts has been a challenge since the Imperial Irrigation District has senior water rights thanks to a nearly century old agreement. That is why people like Tina Shields, water department manager at IID, are trying to find ways to make voluntary cuts more bearable.
“We’re working with our growers to develop enhancements to our existing on-farm conservation program and provide increased incentive payments for them to convert to different irrigation technologies,” Shields said.
If conservation measures are not undertaken, many fear the effects of lowering river levels would be catastrophic. It is why Shields said getting farmers to cut their water usage now is crucial to the sustainability of the region’s agriculture.
Scientists predict the Colorado River will continue to shrink as climate change raises temperatures and worsens droughts.
Those daunting prospects leave farmers like McBroom worried the water they have depended on for decades will become harder and harder to come by.