Drou gh t -s t r i c k e n farmers and cities across California were granted a measure of relief Feb. 26 when federal and state officials said they expected to supply significantly more water this year than last.
The announcements came as welcome news in the nation’s No. 1 farm state, where dramatic cutbacks in water deliveries by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Water Resources Department had idled thousands of farm workers and 300,000 acres (121,400 hectares) of cropland.
Shortages have also forced cities and counties to ration water, raise rates and impose strict mandatory conservation measures that turned lawns brown and left cars unwashed.
But a series of strong winter storms that could mark the end of a three-year drought has left several feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountain range that serves as California’s principal source of surface water.
In light of that deluge, this year the Bureau of Reclamation will supply most California users with 100 per cent of the water they are contracted to receive, U. S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said.
Irrigation districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which represent farmers on the west side of the state’s Central Valley, would get 30 per cent of their allotment, or three times more than last year.
The Central Valley is one of the country’s most important agricultural regions, and the state produces more than half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States.
If average precipitation continues for the rest of the winter, a California Department of Water Resources spokesman said, the state’s final allocation for the year could rise to 35 to 45 per cent of requested amounts.
The dire straits of Central Valley farmers had prompted U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to draft legislation that would ease environmental restrictions to allow more water to be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for growers – a plan the lawmaker said she would now drop.