California farmers told drought could cut off their water

AP
Ag News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Thousands of Central California farmers were warned June 15  that they could face water cutoffs this summer as the state deals with a drought that already has curtailed federal and state irrigation supplies.

The State Water Resources Control Board notified about 6,600 farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed who have rights to use water from the Central Valley estuary of "impending water unavailability" that may continue until winter rains come.

"This is how dry things are," water board Chairman Joaquin Esquivel told the Sacramento Bee.  "The hydrology that we're seeing is not there ... There will not be enough natural flow."

The state also must provide enough flow in the rivers to maintain populations of protected fish species in rivers while keeping "cities and communities from running out of water," Esquivel said.

It's unclear when the allocations will be cut or whom it will affect. Some farmers have first crack at supplies under a complicated distribution system involving rights-holders. Many farmers already have been told they will get little or nothing from two large allocation systems, the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.

In May, the federal government announced that it was slashing allocations for agricultural and urban uses because of projected drops in water flow to the Sacramento, Feather, Yuba and American rivers. 

"The 2021 water year for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin is currently the driest since 1977," the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation warned.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last month declared a drought emergency for much of the state, including the Central Valley, and the U.S. Drought Monitor says most of California's population is in areas suffering from extensive drought just a few years after California emerged from the last punishing multiyear dry spell.

California has seen unusually dry winters and extraordinarily warm spring temperatures. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state's water, was at just 59% of average on April 1, when it is normally at its peak. 

And the warm spring led to quick melting of the snowpack in the waterways that feed the Sacramento River, which in turn supplies much of the state's summer water supply.