SACRAMENTO (CN) – California water officials accepted a deal Friday with farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that reduces water deliveries to the parched agricultural region by 25 percent.
The farmers proposed the deal in order to prevent the rumored water curtailments by the State Water Resources Control Board, which would have further reduced supplies during the fall growing season.
Under the agreement, participating farmers can either reduce 25 percent of water diversions or fallow 25 percent of their land.
The water board says the agreement ensures significant water conservation as California struggles through a fourth year of drought.
“It allows participating growers to share in the sacrifice that people throughout the state are facing because of the severe drought, while protecting their economic well-being by giving them some certainty regarding exercise of the State Water Board’s enforcement discretion at the beginning of the planting season,” said State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus.
The program applies to senior water-rights holders in the delta owning land that abuts rivers or streams who divert water for their crops. The state was preparing curtailment orders for senior water-rights holders, including delta farmers with rights dating back to the 1800s.
The last time curtailment orders were issued by the state was during a time of serious drought in the 1970s.
Three weeks ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory water restrictions for each water agency in the state, demanding a 25 percent reduction from 2013 usage. Critics lambasted Brown’s order, which focused on ornamental lawn watering and reductions to in-home water use, and for failing to address agriculture water use which accounts for the majority of the state’s water use.
In April, delta farmers that acquired their water rights after 1914 were issued curtailments by the water board and face $1,000 fines if they pump or divert water from the San Joaquin River watershed. Last year, 5,063 water rights holders were issued curtailments by the state, resulting in billions of dollars in agricultural losses.
The water board says the participating farmers must submit a plan by June 1 and that the board will conduct spot checks during the fall. The program could set a precedent for other riparian regions in the Golden State.
An estimated 4,000 delta farmers could participate in Friday’s agreement.
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