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Food Crisis? California’s Farmers Running Out Of Water

California farmers water rights

Image source: CIROnline

Property owners, farmers and communities in California could lose water rights that they have held for generations because of the ongoing mega-drought in the Golden State.

Farmers could be fined for irrigating crops, homeowners fined for watering lawns and cities fined for taking drinking water from rivers under regulations adopted by the California Water Resources Control Board on May 21.

“The snowmelt is not there, the precipitation is not there,” John O’Hagan, the board’s supervisor of water rights enforcement, told The Sacramento Bee.

Food Supply Could Be Affected

Curtailment effectively means that the state limits the right to take water from certain rivers and streams. Certain property owners and governments have this right under California state law but the state can take it away during emergencies, such as is happening.

The Board issued curtailments for the Russian, San Joaquin, Sacramento, Stanislaus, Merced, Tuolumne, Yuba, Kern, Kings, Kaweah, Tule and Middle Fork Eel rivers. The areas affected include some of the nation’s biggest food-growing areas, including the San Joaquin Valley.

“We can’t plant rice and not have water for June, July and August and expect to get a crop,” farmer Nicole Van Vleck told The Bee. “It’s unprecedented on our ranch. I’ve been here 20 years and I’ve never had any sort of curtailment before.”

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Van Vleck said she will plant far less rice at her farm in Yuba City north of Sacramento this year. Rice farming requires large amounts of water.

Experts are already predicting that the ongoing mega-drought in California could devastate the nation’s food supply. The water-rights curtailment could make things only worse.

Some farmers could get as little as 5 percent of their normal water supplies from California’s State Water Project, The Bee reported.

Not All Farmers Affected

Water rights issued after 1914 will be affected by the current round of curtailments. Farmers with older water rights will be able to take water from rivers for irrigation.

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Part of the reason for the curtailment is to make sure that those with older water rights will have enough water, O’Hagan told The Bee. He also promised to respect property rights.

“We are not peace officers, so we do not have the right to trespass,” O’Hagan said. “We will be looking for people that were curtailed to make sure water is getting to the people that have senior rights. There will be a field presence and inspections.”

The state legislature recently doubled fines for violating a water curtailment order but the board has no ability to tell when water is being diverted, The Bee reported.

California’s Water Supply is 20 Percent of Normal

Recent news articles indicate that the mega-drought in California is getting worse. Some frightening figures include:

  • Some California cities could get as little as 5 percent of their normal water supply from the state.
  • Around 69 percent of the streams in California have lower-than-normal levels of water, according to stream flow gauges maintained by the US Geological Survey.
  • The snowpack on California’s mountains, the source of much of the state’s water, is 20 percent of normal and it is melting fast because of a recent heat wave.
  • Farmers could leave nearly a half million acres of cropland unplanted because of the drought, Reuters reported.

“I expect to see a lot of streams disappear underground this year,” environmental attorney Mike Jackson said. Jackson predicted that many wells in California will go dry as well because the water in them comes from nearby streams.

Are you concerned about the impact the California drought will have on the US? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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