Officials are preparing for yet another critical water year in California as the state – along with most of the American west – remains mired in drought.
The federal government said Wednesday that it won’t deliver water to farmers in California’s agricultural belt, which produces roughly a quarter of the nation’s food, due to the extreme water shortages that are expected to deepen if the direly dry conditions continue through March.
“It’s devastating to the agricultural economy and to those people that rely on it,” said Ernest Conant, regional director for the US Bureau of Reclamation, adding that this year may turn out to be worse than 2021, when drought conditions forced farmers to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres of land. “But unfortunately we can’t make it rain.”
The federal government operates the Central Valley Project in California, a complex system of dams, reservoirs and canals. It’s one of two major water systems the state relies on for agriculture, drinking water, and the environment. The other system is run by the state government. This is the fourth time in the last decade that farmers south of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta have gotten no water from the federal government.
Water agencies contract with the federal government for certain amounts of water each year. In February, the federal government announces how much of those contracts can be fulfilled based on how much water is available. The government then updates the allocations throughout the year based on conditions. Last year, farmers started the year with a 5% allocation from the federal government but ended at 0% as the drought intensified. This year, the federal government is starting farmers at 0% while water for other purposes, including drinking and industrial uses, is at 25%.
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