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Saturday, February 21, 2009

California Central Valley Project farms lose main water source to drought: zero water allocation declared by U.S. Bureau of Reclamations

California farms lose main water source to drought

by Steve Gorman, February 20, 2009

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- The main irrigation system for California farmers, the Central Valley Project, expects to halt water deliveries to most of its growers this year due to one of the worst droughts in state history, federal managers said on Friday.

The zero-water allocation for most CVP users was declared by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as California water officials repeated their plans to cut amounts supplied from a separate state-run water project to 15% of normal allotments.

The cutbacks are a huge blow to farmers in the Central Valley, which produces over half of the fruit, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States, and will undoubtedly lead to higher prices for a wide variety of crops.

A recent University of California forecast projected that a scenario like the one announced on Friday would cause a loss of 60,000 to 80,000 jobs and over $2 billion in lost revenue.

The state already is coping with an unemployment rate well above the national average.

A spokeswoman for the Reclamation Bureau, Lynnette Wirth, described circumstances as "grim."

"It doesn't get any worse than zero," California Farm Bureau Federation President Doug Mosebar said in a statement. "Our water reliability has hit rock bottom."

He called on state authorities to take any steps possible to ease the situation, including ensuring that "voluntary, short-term water sales and transfers proceed quickly."

The Central Valley, a fertile but arid region stretching some 500 miles from Bakersfield to Redding, is the agricultural heartland of California, which ranks as the nation's No. 1 farm state in terms of the value of crops produced -- more than $36 billion a year.

The principal source of water for farms and ranches in the valley is the federally built and managed CVP, a vast network of dams, pumping stations and canals that collects runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountain range and delivers it to irrigation districts throughout the region.

The largest of those -- and biggest in the nation -- the Westlands Water District, encompasses just over 700 farmers on 600,000 acres of land, two-thirds of which will be idled by the cutoff in water supplies, spokeswoman Sarah Woolf said.

She said layoffs already have begun in anticipation of the cutbacks. Some growers will do their best to get by with unused water supplies left over from last year and local groundwater.

The CVP as a whole typically supplies irrigation water for about 3 million acres of farmland. This year, that will drop by 1 million acres or less, Wirth said.

Federal officials say allocations might be increased later in the year to 10% of contracted amounts, but only if the drought unexpectedly eases considerably.

Despite a recent flurry of winter storms, California is in the third year of a drought shaping up to be the state's worst ever. The snowpack in the Sierras remains far below normal, and reservoirs fed by mountain runoff are badly depleted as well.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

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Keynote Speakers
AG Kawamura, California Department of Food & Agriculture

Jeff Mount, Center for Watershed Sciences

L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions
Dr. Richard Pan, UC Davis Medical Center

Melanie Briones, Central Valley Health Policy Institute

Quentin Kopp, California High Speed Rail Comission

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500 Leisure Lane
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Hope this helps!