California Farms Lose Main Water Source To Drought

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California’s main source of irrigation water is expected to go dry this year for most of its growers due to drought, idling at least 60,000 workers and up to 1 million acres of farmland, federal officials and experts said Feb. 20.

A zero allocation has been announced for most of the farmers who buy water from the federally managed Central Valley Project (CVP), a vast network of dams, pumping stations and canals that collects runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountain range and delivers it to irrigation districts throughout the region.

The drought-forced cutbacks are a huge blow to thousands of farmers in the Central Valley, which produces over half of the fruit, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. The Central Valley ranks as the nation’s No. 1 farm state in value of crops produced – more than $36 billion a year.

A recent forecast by University of California economists projected losses of 60,000 to 80,000 jobs and over $2 billion in income from a scenario like the one announced.

Richard Howitt, a co-author of that study, said he expected that 850,000 acres of land would be left dry and fallow, and another two million acres would grow less food than normal. His analysis assumes farmers will make greater use of groundwater to help offset cutbacks from the state and federal government.

Officials at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the CVP, estimated that one million acres, roughly a third of the land irrigated by the system, would be put out of production. Agency spokeswoman Lynnette Wirth called the situation “grim.”

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