8.19.2021 California drought drains wells and dreams in Central Valley - Los Angeles Times

Fourteen years ago, Heriberto Sevilla came across a ranch on the outskirts of Madera set among fields of stalk grass and bright wildflowers. Pepper trees dotted the meadow, and children played in the natural lakes created by heavy rains.

It was the perfect place to raise a big family. So the 51-year-old native of Chilapa, Mexico, bought it and made sure the property included a functioning well.

On spring days, free time was spent lounging in the backyard. Heriberto taught his daughters how to ride horses. They helped him feed the chickens and sheep. Goats kept the area tidy, munching on grass. When fruit in the trees was ripe, he proudly showed his children how to harvest their bounty. And in the winter, his wife Sandra prepared a homemade birria for holiday festivities from their goats. 

But then a darkness came over the little Eden the Sevillas had created. 

Amid two years of relentless drought, the well’s output slowly tapered off. The family was forced to buy gallons of precious water from the grocery store to take showers, clean dishes and cook. They borrowed water from their neighbor to irrigate their almond and peach trees and feed their goats, sheep, chickens and horses.

A man puts out food for goats and sheep
Heriberto Sevilla feeds sheep and goats on his ranch in Madera County where he and his family have lived for 14 years.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A little girl helps her father fill up a trough with water from a hose
Heriberto Sevilla and his daughter Arianna, 5, fill a drinking trough for the animals on their ranch with water drawn with permission from a neighbor’s hose.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“Without water, you’re nothing,” Heriberto said. “Family is the most important thing. Plants are beautiful, and my animals help me relax. But what can we do?”

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