YUBA COUNTY (KPIX 5) – The rice industry in the Sacramento Valley is taking a hard hit with the drought. Some farmers are skipping out on their fields this year, because they are cashing in on their water rights.
Many fields will stay dry because farmers will be doing what was once considered unthinkable: selling their water to Southern California.
"In the long term, if we don't make it available we're afraid they'll just take it," said Charlie Mathews, a fourth generation rice farmer with senior rights to Yuba River water.
He and his fellow growers have agreed to sell 20 percent of their allotment to Los Angeles's Metropolitan Water District as it desperately searches to add to its dwindling supply.
It's not really surprising that Southern California is looking for a place to buy water. But what is making news is how much they've agreed to pay for it: $700 per acre foot of water.
Just last year, rice farmers were amazed when they were offered $500 per acre foot. This new price means growers will earn a lot more money on the fields they don't plant, making water itself the real cash crop in California.
"It's much more than we ever expected to get. But at the same time, that just shows the desperation of the people that need it," Mathews said.
The ripple effect of this will be felt around the entire state. If a Bay Area water district needs to buy more water, it will now be competing with Los Angeles to do it.
"They have to pay whatever the last price, the highest price, people will pay," Mathews said.
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