YERINGTON, NV - The drought has already had a dramatic impact on farmers in the Smith and Mason Valleys, but this year it is going to be even harder to make a living. The state agency that controls ground water in the area decided Tuesday to cut each farmer's allocation in half.
In wet years, most farmers rely on water from the Walker River, but with little to no snow in the mountains this year, there will likely be no water in the river. Ground water is the backup water supply, but this year even that is being reduced.
At Peri & Sons Farms in Yerington, the livelihood depends on growing crops, and growing crops depends on water.
"It's the blood in the farmers' veins; if you do not have water, you cannot grow crops," said David Peri, President of Peri & Sons Farms.
During the last three years of drought, Peri and other farmers in the Mason Valley have been relying on ground water to water their crops. Relying too much on ground water has caused a problem.
"The water table is dropping like a rock. We're seeing unprecedented pumping and we have to curtail some of that pumping so that the water table will hopefully start to recover," said Jason King, Nevada State Engineer.
The State Engineer, who governs ground water in Nevada, has come up with an unpopular solution to the water table problem: reduce supplemental ground water pumping by 50% in the Smith and Mason Valleys.
"It's a compound problem for the farmers. It's as serious as serious gets. It is actually scary," said Peri.
Businesses like Peri & Sons Farms will take a hit. They won't be able to produce as many crops. But it's the small farmers like Darrell Pursel who will be affected the most.
"We have had our share of droughts; this is just the worst," said Pursel.
Pursel grows alfalfa. This year he expects he'll get about 20% of the yield he gets on a good water year.
"My well is not producing as well as I would like it to, so I will hopefully be able to farm as much as I did last year, which is about 50 acres," said Pursel.
His well is an example of the problem the state is trying to correct. So much water has been pumped out of the ground in the surrounding area, the water table is dropping and leaving some farmers high and dry.
"Last year we heard several reports of water levels getting to the point where they have to re-drill their wells. And we expect, again if we don't do something this year, we expect to see dozens if not more than 100 more," said King.