Associated Press: FAIRMEAD, California, By Terry Chea — As California’s drought deepens, Elaine Moore’s family is running out of an increasingly precious resource: water.

The Central Valley almond growers had two wells go dry this summer. Two of her adult children are now getting water from a new well the family drilled after the old one went dry last year. She’s even supplying water to a neighbor whose well dried up.

“It’s been so dry this last year. We didn’t get much rain. We didn’t get much snowpack,” Moore said, standing next to a dry well on her property in Chowchilla, California. “Everybody’s very careful with what water they’re using. In fact, my granddaughter is emptying the kids’ little pool to flush the toilets.”

Amid a megadrought plaguing the American West, more rural communities are losing access to groundwater as heavy pumping depletes underground aquifers that aren’t being replenished by rain and snow.

More than 1,200 wells have run dry this year statewide, a nearly 50 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the California Department of Water Resources. By contrast, fewer than 100 dry wells were reported annually in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Ethan Bowles of Hefner and Drew Well Drilling operates a well-drilling rig at a home in Madera County, Calif., where many wells have gone dry this year on Sept 14, 2022 – AP Photo/Terry Chea

The groundwater crisis is most severe in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland, which exports fruits, vegetables and nuts around the world.

Shrinking groundwater supplies reflect the severity of California’s drought, which is now entering its fourth year. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 94% of the state is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

California just experienced its three driest years on record, and state water officials said Monday they’re preparing for another dry year because the weather phenomenon known as La Nina is expected to occur for the third consecutive year.

Farmers are getting little surface water from the state’s depleted reservoirs, so they’re pumping more groundwater to irrigate their crops. That’s causing water tables to drop across California. State data shows that 64% of wells are at below-normal water levels.

California wells run dry as record drought deepens

Tomas Chairez carries the buckets his tenants use to carry water from a neighbor’s home because his property lost access to groundwater in Fairmead, California, Sept 14, 2022. Chairez is trying to get the county to provide a storage tank and water delivery service. For now, his tenants have to fill up 5-gallon (19-liter) buckets at a friend’s home and transport water by car each day – AP Photo/Terry Chea

As California’s drought deepens, more rural communities are running out of water as heavy pumping depletes groundwater that isn’t being replenished by rain and snow. More than 1,200 wells have run dry this year statewide.

Water shortages are already reducing the region’s agricultural production as farmers are forced to fallow fields and let orchards wither. An estimated 531,00 acres (215,000 hectares) of farmland went unplanted this year because of a lack of irrigation water, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As climate change brings hotter temperatures and more severe droughts, cities and states around the world are facing water shortages as lakes and rivers dry up. Many communities are pumping more groundwater and depleting aquifers at an alarming pace.

“This is a key challenge not just for California, but for communities across the West moving forward in adapting to climate change,” said Andrew Ayres, a water researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Water levels are low at San Luis Reservoir, which stores irrigation water for San Joaquin Valley farms, in Gustine, Calif, Sept 14, 2022 – AP Photo/Terry Chea

Madera County, north of Fresno, has been hit particularly hard because it relies heavily on groundwater. The county has reported about 430 dry wells so far this year.

In recent years, the county has seen the rapid expansion of thirsty almond and pistachio orchards that are typically irrigated by agricultural wells that run deeper than domestic wells.

“The bigger straw is going to suck the water from right beneath the little straw,” said Madeline Harris, a policy manager with the advocacy group Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability. She stood next to a municipal well that’s run dry in Fairmead, a town of 1,200 surrounded by nut orchards.

“Municipal wells like this one are being put at risk and are going dry because of the groundwater overdraft problems from agriculture,” Harris said. “There are families who don’t have access to running water right now because they have dry domestic wells.”

Residents with dry wells can get help from a state program that provides bottled water as well as storage tanks regularly filled by water delivery trucks. The state also provides money to replace dry wells, but there’s a long wait to get a new one.

Not everyone is getting assistance.

Thomas Chairez said his Fairmead property, which he rents to a family of eight, used to get water from his neighbor’s well. But when it went dry two years ago, his tenants lost access to running water.

Chairez is trying to get the county to provide a storage tank and water delivery service. For now, his tenants have to fill up 5-gallon (19-liter) buckets at a friend’s home and transport water by car each day. They use the water to cook and take showers. They have portable toilets in the backyard.

Top Feature Photo: Elaine Moore stands next to a dry irrigation canal and almond orchard near her property, where two wells have gone dry this summer in Chowchilla, California, Sept 14, 2022. Amid a megadrought plaguing the American West, more rural communities are losing access to groundwater as heavy pumping depletes underground aquifers that aren’t being replenished by rain and snow – AP Photo/Terry Chea