The extreme drought that California has experienced has created a demand for wells. California is having a dry year, for the third dry year in a row and now well drilling has exploded across the state. Many drilling companies in the agricultural region have been booked up anywhere from a few months all the way up to a year. The requests for permits to dig up new wells are double what they were last year.
California farmers can only expect to get a fraction of the water needed for crops from the massive government controlled systems of reservoirs and canals across the state. In an attempt to make up for the difference in amounts of water, some are tapping into the states ground-water supply.
A Central Valley Farmer by the name of Bob Smittcamp said a company he regularly hired told him that the drought in California has created a bigger demand for wells so much he would eventually need his own rig. This conversation prompted the farmer to do just that. He is currently waiting on the delivery on a full scale rig. The rig cost the farmer $1 million dollars and he is eagerly awaiting its delivery. Smittcamp spends an estimated $4,000 per acre and cannot run the risk of having a well run dry as that would lead to massive losses in crops. Smittcamp plans to use the rig to drill for neighboring farmers in the area when he isn’t drilling on his own farm. This is to help with the high demands for wells and to earn back the money he invested.
John Hofer, the executive director of the California Groundwater Association and underground water consultant, said the explosion for need is a result of drought as well as a gradually improving economy. Hofer stated that his firm began receiving more calls than usual in 2013. Today, the California drought creates demand for water, but before there were so many backed appointments Hofer believed increased in demand for drilling would soon follow.
Fresno County leads the nation in agricultural production and was issued 256 permits for new wells in the first three months of 2014. This is greater than two times the amount needed around the same last year. In Tulare County, permits issued in the region is three times as many amounting to 245. Kern County quadrupled last year’s numbers, taking out 63 permits in the beginning of 2014.
There is a down side to digging so many wells: It isn’t cheap and too much digging could result in sinking of the ground throughout the area. The price to dig a well ranges anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 before installing pumps for the ground-water. This puts farmers who do not have that kind of money in a tough spot.
Usually Central Valley farmers would draw a third of their water from wells while receiving the remaining two from the Central Valley Project and the California’s State Water Project. Even though the California drought has created a demand for more wells, farmers do not expect to receive any water from either of the water giving projects this summer this year. The majority of the water farmers use is now shifting to underground water supplies, and even that could eventually run dry.
By Sarah Wright