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Drought severely affecting California rice crops

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    DAVIS, California (KOVR) -- Severe drought is taking a severe toll on California rice crops this year.

Some call the impact on farmers and the surrounding communities catastrophic.

Photos of the Barrett family rice fields in Maxwell should be seeded and flooded with water by this time of year. Instead, they’re empty. It’s what farmers call fallow.

“This is the first time in four generations that we are not farming rice,” Brian Barrett said.

The California Rice Commission said crops are still being planted but exact numbers would not be known until the end of May.

The Bureau of Reclamation reportedly allocated zero water from Lake Shasta to farmers south of the San Joaquin Delta.

Today, Lake Shasta is below 50% capacity — a historical low.

“They’re not letting anybody use water for their farms,” Barrett said.

Barret is planting rice on leased land in Davis. Like on most fields planted this season, he has access to groundwater and the infrastructure to pump it.

“We’ll succeed, [even] if I have to water with a garden hose,” he said.

But Barrett has some serious fears for future crops and the economic damage.

“These small towns, they depend on the agriculture, and without the agriculture, these towns are drying up,” he said. “I mean, it’s a ghost town when you go to these small towns.”

The Northern California Water Association expects the rice industry to lose more than $250 million statewide, including more than $70 million in lost wages.

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