California’s ongoing drought problems can be blamed for many things, including jacking up the cost of burritos and making it more expensive to get your five veggies per day.

Farmers need water to grow all our vegetables—not to mention the wheat and corn that go into tortillas for those burritos, plus other crops that feed livestock. But here’s an interesting thing that Modern Farmer drew our attention to: The water used by California farmers belongs to the farmers, not to the state.

cali drought
Photo: Flickr/docentjoyce

California allocates water rights to farmers based on size and output. So when the state does the math to determine exactly how bad the drought is, the farmers’ water isn’t included.

In the Sacramento Valley (north of San Francisco), rice farmers have decided to sell 20 percent of their water back to the state to help out Los Angeles. Astonishingly, they’re getting a record-high price of $700 per acre-foot of water—a unit of measure equal to about 325,000 gallons.

That means these rice farmers will be getting more money to supply the state with a fraction of their water than they would be if they used that water to grow crops. It also means they’ll be growing less rice.

KPIX-5 spoke to fourth generation rice farmer Charlie Mathews, who explained why the farmers came together to make this decision:

“In the long term, if we don’t make it available we’re afraid they’ll just take it. 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.”

This move also sets a precedent, in case any other drought-stricken areas get similar ideas about approaching farmers to buy their water rights. Mathews says everyone else will now be in competition with Los Angeles: “They have to pay whatever the last price, the highest price, people will pay.

[via Modern Farmer, KPIX-5]