The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) cautioned 6,600 farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed on Tuesday that they may have water shutoff until winter.
This years drought, which Governor Gavin Newsom has already declared an emergency in 41 counties, has already brought down water levels not seen for decades. However, water levels are now so low in many parts of the state that natural flow has been disrupted, leading to thousands of farmers being on the verge of ruin and the state trucking out salmon to the ocean due to their inability to swim there from inland areas.
While agriculture and urban use of water is at critical levels, up to 90% of inflow water in some areas has been pumped out to the ocean, in part to provide fish natural passage to the ocean. Endangered species, including the delta smelt and the chinook salmon require a large amount of released water, a practice of which has been occurring for three decades. However, despite the sacrifice, no rebound has been seen despite 50% of all state water being used for environmental purposes.
Even with thousands of farmers being on the brink of being cut off from water, the state reiterated on Tuesday that water would still be used to maintain protected fish populations even as the food supply may possibly be threatened.
“This is how dry things are,” said SWRCB board Chairman Joaquin Esquivel. “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.”
While some farmers may still get water due to being rights-holders in certain water distribution systems, most will be left out and may have water turned off if things do not improve.
Angry farmers, a possible recall election sticking point
“I am beyond pissed,” an anonymous farmer who is among the more than 6,000 farmers who may be possibly be affected by the shut off told the Globe on Wednesday. “We’ve been pushed and pushed on water for years in the Central Valley. A lot of people don’t understand just how bad it has gotten.”
“And now this. Don’t they have any idea what this will do to food supplies? To prices? A lot of farmers I know said they may sell and not come back. This isn’t just a one year thing. This is a huge impact that will last for years for agriculture to return to the levels where it was.”
“I get urban usage. People need water to live. And as long as they aren’t just outright wasting water like watering their lawns every day and doing a few things to help us out on conservation, you won’t hear a lot of complaints against them.”
“No it’s anger at the state and over the environment, particularly those fish that they’re killing us for to protect them [sic]. You can tell who the farmers or farm workers are around here because of the “Death to salmon” bumper stickers and other, to be polite, distinctive markers. It is infuriating to see them pumping water out like that for just a few fish. We desperately need that.”
However, for him and other farmers who have Central Valley estuary water rights, once the water is off, it may take months for the water to go back on again. According to a notice from the SWRCB, it may continue until rain returns during the winter. And with federal allocations reducing last month for agricultural and urban uses, as well as the Sierra Nevada snowpack being at only a little over half of where it was few years ago, the shut off may come sooner than expected.
“A lot of farmers are looking for anyone, or anything, to keep the water on,” added the farmer. “There’s a recall again this year, right? Whichever candidate says that they will divert water from environmental uses back to urban and agricultural, like what Trump tried to do for us last year, they will get virtually every farmer vote in the state. I’m not exaggerating. It’s that important.”
It is currently unknown when the SWRCB will begin water shutoffs in the Central Valley.
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