A new study shows farmers in pockets of California hardest hit by the drought could begin to see their wells run dry a year from now if rain and snow remain scarce in the agriculturally rich state. 

Richard Howitt, a UC Davis professor emeritus of agriculture and resource economics, urged farmers to take the lead in managing groundwater to irrigate crops and sustain California's $44.7 billion farming industry.

Howitt said farmers are accustomed to having a seeming endless supply.

The study released by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences used computer modeling, NASA satellite data and estimates provided by state and federal water agencies to examine the impact on California if the next two years continue to be abnormally dry.

The California Farm Bureau says the full impact of water shortages on farms and ranches is becoming more and more apparent.  

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger says the report estimates the drought could cause the loss of more than 17,000 jobs, and cost over $2 billion in economic damage, numbers he believes are conservative.

Wenger says the state has spent 35 years pursuing a conservation-only strategy, which has proven disastrous.

He points out that when the state last built a new reservoir to capture rain or snowmelt in the late 1970s, California's population was 23 million.  

Wenger says now that the state has more than 38 million people, California has to build additional and expanded water storage if the state is going to be prepared to handle drought periods and capture storm runoff linked to climate change.


-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.