updated 9/22/2009 10:37:19 AM ET 2009-09-22T14:37:19

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 50 of California's 58 counties as natural disaster areas because of crop losses due to ongoing drought.

The declaration will clear the way for emergency loans to farmers who have suffered financial losses this year from the drought.

Farmers will be eligible depending on the severity of losses and their ability to repay.

The USDA says 21 counties are part of the primary disaster area, and 29 more are designated because they are next to counties where widespread losses have occurred.

Three years of below-average rain and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada and federal pumping restrictions that are intended to protect delta fish have curtailed water deliveries to farmers and cities around the state.

Farmers have fallowed thousands of acres of crops, while cities have imposed mandatory water rationing, raised rates or imposed drought surcharges.

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