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Robert Thiel of Thiel AirCare, Inc. in Chowchilla, Calif., pilots his helicopter over brown fields in the western San Joaquin Valley. His family’s crop dusting business would usually be spraying these fields at this time of year. Doug Thiel, his father and owner of the business, said 'We’re probably at 20 to 25 percent of normal operation for the winter months' due to reduced planting by farmers because of ongoing drought. 'It’s really kind of bleak,' he said of his outlook for the spring and summer seasons.
Laborers weed 150 acres of land planted with lettuce near Huron, Calif., for Church Brothers Produce, down from 500 acres the previous year. The grower retained enough credits for water from the previous season to irrigate these 150 acres but not the rest. Credits for unused water can be traded, but in this year's drought they fetch a premium: 'I’m paying four times the usual rate for an acre-foot if I can even get it,' said Josh Ruiz of Church Brothers.
Newly hired seasonal firefighters coil and carry hoses in Friant, Calif. during their first week of training on Thursday, Feb. 13. 'I can't remember a time when we've hired seasonals in February,' said Capt. Ryan Michaels of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Fresno-Kings Unit, 'Last year it was April - and that was early.' Anticipating a busy fire season due to drought, CalFire has hired 65 additional firefighters in the central Sierra region.
Ria Morearty de Groot and Cathy Case traveled with other protesters from Stockton, Calif. to stand along the expected route of President Barack Obama’s motorcade in drought-affected farm country in the Central Valley’s west side on Friday, Feb. 14. 'They’re not supporting the only freshwater estuary in the western U.S.,' said Case about California’s diversion of water from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The protesters hoped to counter the support for additional damming they expected west side farmers to convey to President Obama.
Kelly Goad and Casey Brown fish for striped bass in the California Aqueduct near Taft, Calif. on Wed. Feb 12. Beyond them are fields irrigated from the aqueduct, which conveys water from the Delta to Southern California.
Rocky Kirk putts toward Hole 10 on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the Buena Vista Golf Course, which overlooks the California Aqueduct near Taft, Calif. The drought 'hit us about five years ago,' said Chad Sorenson, general manager of the golf course, when dry weather began driving his annual water bill from $120,000 to $300,000. The golf course's water is drawn from the aqueduct, which in turn has carried the water over 200 miles south from the Delta.
Waterless Turf owner Vic Watterson, right, talks to Jose Sanchez while they install an artificial lawn at a home in Santa Monica, Calif. on Tuesday Feb 11. Watterson estimates his call volume 'has increased around 30 percent' in 2014 due to drought and concerns about water rationing.
The control room of the Charles Meyer Desalination Facility in Santa Barbara, Calif. hasn't changed since 1991 when the plant was built at a cost of $34 million. It operated for a few months in the early and mid 90s but has remained dormant since then. Now the city of Santa Barbara is considering restarting the aging desalination plant to cope with drought.
A trace of water sits in the bottom of the Madera Canal, which is fed by the nearby Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River in Friant, Calif.
Black Angus beef cattle stand in a dry field in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range near Le Grand, Calif. on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.
Adalberto Becerra drills a test well on Thursday, Feb. 13 in an almond orchard in Le Grand, Calif. Uncertainty about irrigation this spring has increased demand for well drilling in the Central Valley. 'We’re usually 60 days behind,' said Becerra’s boss Joe Silvira of Quality Well Drillers, 'but now we’re 100 days out.' Wells near Le Grand typically reach about 800 to 1500 feet down.
Heifers at Fred Rau Dairy near Fresno, Calif., stand in a pen next to a field kept fallow to conserve water in anticipation of a dry season on Friday, Feb. 14.
Fall Chinook Salmon smolts pour into a tanker truck at the the Coleman National Fish Hatchery near Redding, Calif. During the spring months, workers in Northern California trucked 25 million baby salmon from hatcheries in the hills to the California Delta, an unusual measure taken to circumvent drought-stricken waterways that are the salmon's normal route to the ocean.
In a normal year, 'This would all be underwater,' said Tony, fishing for trout with his wife Darlene at the Hensley Lake reservoir near Madera, Calif. on Sat. Feb 15. Hensley Lake is at just seven percent of capacity. 'That's why I'm fishing now, because I don't think there's going to be water in summer.'
Nacho Pinero drives a tractor while planting alfalfa in a 100-acre field he's leasing near the Clifton Court Forebay at the south end of California's Delta on Feb. 15. Pinello's field is in the Byron Bethany Irrigation District, which he says should deliver him enough water to irrigate the crop, potentially creating a windfall since hay prices are high around the state due to drought. 'Most of the time there's no profit' in farming, he said, 'it's just money changing hands. When things like this come, you got a chance to make a little profit.'
Dry range land used by cattle near Taft, Calif.
A sign advising water conservation greets drivers on California State Route 43 in Kern County, Calif. on Wed., Feb. 12.