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California's Record Drought Sparks Well Drilling Boom

SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) -- California water well diggers are working around the clock, drilling wells for farmers desperate to keep their crops from turning to dust.

Steve Arthur of Arthur and Orum Well Drilling has been drilling wells since the 1970s and right now his business is booming.

"We are booked all summer, all winter," Arthur told KPIX 5. "And it looks like we are going to be into around March right now for new wells."

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The well drilling business started spiking last year, when it was evident that farmers were going to need more water than what the state and the federal government could supply.

In a good year, where rain and snowpack are normal, groundwater supplies about 40 percent of California's water.

But according to a recent report by the California Water Foundation, this year it is anticipated groundwater use will jump to 65 percent.

Arthur said it has created a desperate situation for many farmers. In many cases, it's the choice between a digging a new well or letting crops die. And Arthur warns when farmers have to quit farming, consumers could be the ultimate losers in the water game.

"It's going to be devastating to the people when eventually they are going to go into the market," said Arthur. "And get a gallon of milk for $10."

Farmers, ranchers, and just about every type of grower are digging wells deeper and deeper. With digging costs ranging from $20,000 to over a half a million dollars per well, not including a pump or the electricity required to power it all, wells are an expensive investment.

Right now, Arthur and other well diggers have crews working six, sometimes seven days a week, 24 hours a day in some areas of the state. Crews are drilling almost a well a day.

But this rapid and intense increase in drilling throughout the state has water officials like Felicia Marcus, chairperson of the state's Water Resources Control Board, very concerned about the additional pressure that has been put on California's underground supply.

"There also is a neighbor versus neighbor impact where he with the biggest well and the biggest pump wins and you have in some ways a water race and that doesn't feel fair to people," Said Marcus.

A bill being considered in the state legislature could require local water agencies to track, and even restrict, groundwater pumping. The proposal is controversial, with some farmers contending it would violate their property rights.

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