"I will try to buy water wherever I can find it. The problem is that there isn't any water around to buy. I'll try to pump as much as I can physically. And that is all I can do," he said.
Another Firebaugh farmer, Bill Dietrich, said that he, like most Westside farmers, has been converting his cropland to drip irrigation in order to maximize the benefits from the water that he has.
"As of next spring, I will have 100 percent of my acreage under drip irrigation. All of my row crops are drip irrigated except for one 80-acre field of alfalfa and it is scheduled to be put into drip this fall," he said. "On the Westside I grow almonds and prunes, and those are the crops that are in jeopardy. I really don't know what the future will be, even in 2014. We're just trying to get this crop harvested and put away."
Dietrich said the impacts of water shortages might not be visible to people driving through the Westside on Interstate 5, but the effects are noticeable nonetheless.
"For the public and some of the legislators who look at it from the outside, they think that everything looks pretty much the same, but the bottom line is that a lot of assets are being used up to maintain these crops, and they are going to be running out, particularly if there is a zero allocation next year," he said. "The people who aren't connected to it drive by and think everything looks normal, but just under the surface it is ready to crack."
Birmingham said it isn't just the individual farmers being affected by the water cutbacks; they cause economic impacts throughout the valley, as fewer planted acres equate to fewer people being hired to cultivate and harvest the crops.
He said that even though last November and December saw near record precipitation in California, reservoirs were not allowed to fill because of restrictions on the operation of delta pumping plants related to Endangered Species Act protection of delta smelt.
"As a consequence, from mid-December through the end of February the two projects (CVP and State Water Project) lost in excess of 812,000 acre-feet of water that is gone forever and cannot be recaptured," he said. "San Luis Reservoir did not fill, and had we been able to capture that water, notwithstanding the dry conditions in the later part of the water year, the allocation for farmers in Westlands would have been 40 to 45 percent. But instead our allocation is 20 percent."
So what lies ahead for 2014?
According to Birmingham, farmers typically make their planting decisions in November and December, but they are already making decisions for 2014 now.
"I believe that because of the forecast for water deliveries next year, farmers are making those decisions today. They are trying to conserve as much water as they can to reschedule that water from this year into next year as a means of protecting their permanent crops. It is my understanding from having talked to many farmers that they have made the decision to not plant annual crops next year and if they do plant annual crops, those plantings will be limited to less than 20 percent of what would be planted in a normal year," he said.