Environment & Science

Citrus industry encouraged by California's wet weather

File: Oranges are sprayed with water to melt the ice frozen over them at the Keith A. Nilmeier Farms Jan. 16, 2007 in Fresno.
File: Oranges are sprayed with water to melt the ice frozen over them at the Keith A. Nilmeier Farms Jan. 16, 2007 in Fresno.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A series of three storms, the first arriving late Wednesday, is expected to drench Southern California — but one group that's welcomed California's recent wet weather is citrus growers. The drought has had a big impact on the state's citrus industry, but now Bob Blakely with California Citrus Mutual, an advocacy group for the state's citrus growers, says that this year's wet weather has been a big positive.

"It's been a rough three years. We're encouraged with the rain and the snowpack that we're getting," Blakely told KPCC.

The state has had about 25,000 acres of citrus removed due to the lack of water, Blakely said, as a zero water allocation for the past three years has left farmers relying on groundwater and other backup sources rather than being able to purchase water.

"It has significantly impacted our water table," Blakely said. "Growers either opted to take the citrus out permanently, or in some cases they took out trees that might've been lesser-producing and opted to replant with new trees that took less water, on the hopes that by the time those came into production, they would have adequate water supplies again."

A normal snow melt and the return of surface water allocations could help citrus production recover quickly, Blakely said — but not everything would recover so quickly.

"In terms of restoring the groundwater and replenishing the water table, bringing that back up to where it is, that could take many years of normal rainfall for the groundwater to come back in as it seeps down from the mountains," Blakely said. "It's going to take probably decades for the groundwater that was depleted to recover, and in some places it may never recover."

California produced 80 to 85 percent of all fresh citrus in the United States, according to Blakely.

"We've had gaps in these storms that have allowed us to continue picking and supplying the market, but the rain that we're getting right now is very welcome, and we'll take the disruption in the harvest if we can have the moisture," Blakely said. "Especially if we can have the snowpack to call on next summer."

Mountains and foothills could see up to three inches of rain this week — and up to five inches from Sunday to Monday. Snow could fall starting Friday on the Grapevine and Tejon Pass. A rain storm has hit nearly every week for the last month and a half.