California farmers strike a deal to cut water use

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The state's threat to cut off water to some farmers has resulted in a deal to save water. California growers who have so far been immune from the impacts of the drought have agreed to give up some water to avoid having it taken away. Growers in the delta say they'll voluntarily give up 25 percent of their water if the state leaves the rest of their water alone.

Growers in the Central Valley know whatever happens to the water north of them in the delta will affect them. This deal sounds like it could mean more water for the Central Valley. But in reality, it could mean less.

Farmers who grow crops where the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers come together have natural or riparian rights to the water. They do not rely on state or federal water projects. Some of those natural rights go back more than a century, and it usually means they can use all the water they want.

But, in a drought emergency like the state is having now, the state may be able to restrict their supply. So, rather than chance it, many of the region's 2,000 water rights holders have offered to give up 25 percent of their supply.

But in a telephone news conference from Sacramento, Felicia Marcus, the state's director of water resources, says it doesn't mean anybody else in the state will get that water. She said, "It's a very complex system, so I caution against saying water saved in one place will go somewhere else directly."

Mario Santoyo of the Friant Water Authority says it's not clear where that water will go. He said, "The first question everybody is going to have is will that water actually make it to cities and farms or will that water remain for the usage of delta environmental purposes?"

By agreeing to take a 25 percent cut, the delta farmers have made a historic deal, but it means they won't have to make any future cuts if necessary. Santoyo says that could be a bad deal for Valley growers. He said, "If in cutting the 25 percent deal guarantees the delta farmers X amount of water in the future and if that future is a bad future relative to water, then it would be unfair for anybody to be at the front of the line than the rest of us."

The state is calling this an historic deal, but it involves only some of the farmers in the delta, where only about 10 percent of the state's crops are grown. For Valley growers, where most of the state's production takes place, it could prove to be much about very little.

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