California Announces Restrictions on Water Use by Farmers
LOS ANGELES — Farmers with rights to California water dating back to the Gold Rush will face sharp cutbacks, the first reduction in their water use since 1977, state officials announced Friday. State officials announced that rights dating to 1903 would be restricted, but said such restrictions will grow as the summer months go on, with the state facing a prolonged drought that shows few signs of easing.
“Demand in our key rivers systems are outstripping supply,” said Caren Trgovcich, the State Water Resources Control Board’s chief deputy director. “Other cuts may be imminent.”
The cut impacts nearly 300 water right holders in the San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds and delta whose claim to water came after 1903. State officials said that further curtailments are being considered weekly.
The restrictions could cause the widespread fallowing of cropland in areas that have so far been largely exempt from cutbacks. The impact of the cuts are likely to be felt far more broadly than they were in the 1970s, because the state now has more authority and ability to measure how water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is used.
While officials have said for months that water for so-called “senior” rights holders — those at the front of the line — would be curtailed, they had repeatedly put off such a decision amid the cooler and wetter weather of the last several weeks.
Gov. Jerry Brown received repeated and intense criticism after he issued mandatory cuts on urban water use but exempted farmers from the cut. In a normal year, agriculture uses about 80 percent of the water consumed in the state. Farmers in the Central Valley have already had their surface water allotment diminish or erased for the last several years and instead relied on water pumped from the ground.