The Backstory: CA Farmers Lose Major Water Source - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

The Backstory: CA Farmers Lose Major Water Source

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Fresno, CA -

The Backstory: CA Farmers Lose Major Water Source

Louis Moore with the Federal Bureau of Water Reclamation says there's a shortage of water in California's Central Valley and, sadly, farmers will be taking the hit. It's a "tough decision," says Moore, but as he explains the math to me it makes sense.

He says the "water year" for the bureau begins in October. Every October they general start with about 6.1 million acre-feet of water. Before I go further, 1 acre-foot equals a football field covered with one foot of water. This past October the bureau started with 5.1 million. A million short! Now, the water has gotten down to 4.5 million acre-feet because of the drought.

It's because of the shortage that the bureau had to make an allocation decision. Moore told me the decision was painful. Zero water allocation for agriculture from the Sacramento River Delta south throughout the Central Valley including the San Joaquin Valley and Fresno County. That's so there could be water for people and businesses. But, even they are taking a 50% cut. Moore says this is a preemptive action because we have really serious trouble.

The affected area of the allocation curtailment amounts to about 500,000 acres. A big avocado/lemon ranch, like the one owned by David Schwabauer and his family, is some 600 acres.

Schwabauer says farmers are "on edge" all across the state. The "lack of rain" a huge concern and "The longer the days we have without rain the more concerning it gets."

The curtailment of Central Valley water does not have a direct impact on farmers here in Southern California. But, the drought is being felt here. Schwabauer tells me his avocado trees are blooming when they shouldn't be and he's running his ground water pump at a time his crop should be getting water from the sky. He says it's all because of the drought.

Another thing, consumers are very likely to feel the impact of all of this at the grocery store cash register. California, and particularly the Central Valley, provides about half of the nations fruits and vegetables. Says Schwabauer, "As supply goes down, demand goes up...  and so does the price."

Meanwhile, Louis Moore tells me there is one ray of hope for some immediate relief. A weather system aiming toward California could have some hefty precipitation next week. He says if that turns out to be the case the Bureau of Water Reclamation could decide to turn on the spigot and give some water back to those Central California farmers.


(FOX 11 / CNS) Federal officials plan to announce Friday how much water they can release this year through a vast system of rivers, canals and reservoirs, but Central Valley farmers on the front lines of California's historic drought expect to get little, if anything.

This time of year the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation carefully measures the mountain snow pack, rainfall and reservoir levels all over California to determine the water available for farmers, fish migrations and communities.

Gayle Holman of the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the nation's largest supplier of water for agricultural use, said the district has been preparing farmers for grim news that they'll receive no water this year from the federal government.

"They're all on pins and needles trying to figure out how they're going to get through this," Holman said, adding that Westland's 700 farmers will choose to leave fields unplanted, draw water from wells or pay top dollar for water that's on the market.

Last year, Westland farmers received just 20 percent of what is considered normal from the federal government's Central Valley Project, while federal water releases for endangered fish remained at 100 percent, causing frustration among farmers.

Gov. Jerry Brown last month declared California's drought emergency, and both state and federal officials have pledged millions of dollars to help with water conservation and food banks for those put out of work by the drought.

California officials who manage the State Water Project, the state's other vast water system, have already said they won't be releasing any water for farmers, marking a first in its 54-year history.

Steve Chedester, executive director of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority in Los Banos, said he anticipates receiving 40 percent of the full water allotment from the federal government to irrigate 240,000 acres of farmland. That's because the Water Authority dates back to the 1870s and has senior water rights over many other contractors and districts.

In a longstanding agreement, the Water Authority is supposed to receive at least 75 percent, and if it doesn't, Chedester said the federal government has to find authority water from alternatives sources.

Farmers he serves understand the reality of California's drought means it's going to be tough to find enough water for them, Chedester said. "They're taking a very practical approach," he said. "If it's not there, it's just not there."

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