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Articles by Jake Bittle

Jake Bittle is a contributing writer at Grist and freelance reporter who lives in Brooklyn, New York. His book about climate migration is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

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This summer is not going to be easy for Matt Watkins. The 39-year-old farmer runs a citrus operation in Tulare County, on the southeast side of California’s Central Valley, and he irrigates his trees using water from a federal canal system. Earlier this year, the federal government informed farmers in his area that it would be delivering only 15 percent of a typical year’s water allotment, thanks to a severe regional drought that has sapped the reservoirs and rivers that are supposed to replenish the canals.

Watkins’s trees need regular watering over the course of the year in order to produce California’s famous oranges, but this summer the water from the federal canal will only last him a month. He and other nearby farmers are pumping unreliable groundwater to make up the difference, hoping their already struggling wells don’t go dry, or are purchasing water for exorbitant rates on an informal local market. Others will rip up their trees and leave their fields fallow.

“We’re year to year right now,” Watkins told Grist. “If it doesn’t rain next year, there could be a pretty big catastrophe for farming. It’s getting down to the point where there’s... Read more

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