Farmers once trusted the rains to fill the Indian Valley Reservoir every winter. But after six dry years, the lake is as empty as their hope that the drought will end in 1993.
From a distance, the reservoir resembles a huge, barren stadium with a puddle at its center. The lake is at 1 percent of capacity, and fish that once had acres of freedom are packed into the tiny pond."It looks like a moonscape," said Mitch Mitchell, who owns a camp store at the reservoir.
Indian Valley Reservoir is normally the main source of water for the Yolo County water district, which serves 300 farms covering 60,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley, about 100 miles northeast of San Francisco.
"It's a roll of the dice whether there will be any water for customers this year," said district manager James Eagan.
The foreman of Sagara Farms, Jan Lowrey, doesn't expect enough rain to fill the reservoir. Farmers will rely on well water, which is more expensive and sometimes of poorer quality, for their tomatoes, corn and other crops.
The extended drought "makes it very difficult to do a decent management job," Lowrey said. Production is down 15 percent on Sagara's 2,000 acres.
The water-supply outlook is nearly as bad in other parts of California. Officials fear the state is headed for a seventh year of drought, the longest dry period for northern California in the past 400 years.
If the drought continues, cities and farms next year will get only one-tenth of their normal supplies from the State Water Project, which oversees statewide distribution, said Water Resources Department Director David Kennedy.
Californians probably will be asked to conserve at least 30 percent, as they did last year, said State Resources Secretary Douglas Wheeler.
Farmers, who expect to leave thousands of acres fallow, lost more than $250 million from the drought in 1991, according to one study.
"We're praying for rain," said California Farm Bureau Federation spokesman Clark Biggs.
Rainfall is below average statewide, and long-range weather forecasts call for a dry winter.