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As Heat Continues, Farmers Must Absorb Large Water Bills

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

San Diego County citrus and avocado growers have had quite a year already. First there was the January frost - which led to a loss of fruit. And now, near record temperatures are sending their water bills soaring. KPBS Radio's Andrea Hsu has more.

Valley Center grower Al Stehly has 400 acres of citrus and avocado trees which he's been irrigating around the clock for the last week.

Stehly: It's a little critical that we keep them wet, because they're all blooming - and that bloom is really fragile - and we don't want it to get dry.

In this weather, each tree needs roughly 300 gallons of water per week. Stehly says his water bill this month could be ten times what it normally is in March -- and closer to what he expects to see in July. 

Stehly: If this continues, this will be just like a summer water bill.

Still, there are upsides to 90-degree weather in March. Stehly says the heat dries out the fruit that froze in January, making it easier to spot and separate from the good fruit. And the bright sun is helpful too.

Stehly: Because it gets the bees out at sunrise, for pollination, and they're out until sunset. Previous years in the spring, it's been cool and foggy, and the bees sit in the hive. So this is great weather for pollinating next year's crop.

Stehly believes whatever the weather, it's always important to look for the silver lining.

Stehly: We always have to look at that, because if you don't, you just get depressed.

Slightly cooler temperatures are forecast for the rest of the week.

For KPBS, I'm Andrea Hsu.

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