California OKs offer of voluntary water cuts

2015-05-23 08:43

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Sacramento - California regulators have accepted a historic offer by farmers to make a 25% voluntary water cut to avoid deeper mandatory losses during the drought.

Officials with the state Water Resources Control Board made the announcement involving farmers in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers who hold some of California's strongest water rights.

The several hundred farmers made the offer after state officials warned they were days away from ordering some of the first cuts in more than 30 years to the senior water rights holders.

Reservoirs and canals

California water law is built around preserving the water claims of those rights holders. The threat of state cuts is a sign of the worsening impacts of the four-year drought.

The state already has mandated 25% conservation by cities and towns and curtailed water deliveries to many farmers and communities.

The most arid winter on record for the Sierra Nevada snowpack means there will be little runoff this summer to feed California's rivers, reservoirs and irrigation canals. The US Drought Monitor rated 94% of California in severe drought or worse.

About 350 farmers turned out at a farmers' grange near Stockton to talk over the delta farmers' bid to stave off deeper cuts.

Under the deal, delta farmers would have until 1 June to lay out how they will use 25% less water during what typically is a rain-free four months until September.

Food prices

The delta is the heart of the water system in California, with kilometres of rivers interlacing fecund farmland. It supplies water to 25 million California residents and vast regions of farmland that produces nearly half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the US.

Agriculture experts, however, say they would expect only modest immediate effects on food prices from any reduction in water to the senior water-rights holders. Other states will be able to make up the difference if California moves away from low-profit crops, economists say.

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