California water board approves voluntary cutback program by growers

Los Angeles | Reuters — California water regulators on Friday said they had approved a plan by some of the state’s most senior water rights holders to voluntary cut back water use by 25 per cent in exchange for assurances that they would not face further cuts during the growing season.

So-called riparian growers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta who participate in the program have agreed to either reduce water diversions by 25 per cent or fallow one-quarter of their land, the State Water Resources Control Board said.

Riparian land borders natural waterways such as rivers or streams and growers with such farmland in the delta are among those with some of California’s most senior water rights.

“This proposal helps Delta growers manage the risk of potentially deeper curtailment, while ensuring significant water conservation efforts in this fourth year of drought,” State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus said.

“It allows participating growers to share in the sacrifice that people throughout the state are facing because of the severe drought, while protecting their economic well-being by giving them some certainty regarding exercise of the State Water Board’s enforcement discretion at the beginning of the planting season,” she said.

The agreement comes as the board is considering curtailing water diversions to senior water rights holders in California for the first time since the late 1970s.

California is entering its fourth year of a devastating drought that has prompted Governor Jerry Brown to impose the state’s first-ever mandatory cutbacks in urban water use, up to 36 per cent in some communities.

California grows nearly half of all U.S. fruits and vegetables, mostly in the Central Valley, and ranks as the top farm state by annual value of agricultural products.

Reporting for Reuters by Dan Whitcomb; additional reporting for Reuters by Lisa Baertlein.


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