By Nick Cahill
Sacramento (CN) — California’s water regulators on Tuesday ordered thousands of farmers and ranchers to stop withdrawing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in a recent escalation of the state’s severe drought.
State Water Resources Management Commission accused unprecedented Emergency behaviorBans farmers on the state’s most productive farms from using river water for the first time due to drought and worsening climate change. They said drastic action was needed to save endangered salmon, protect drinking water, and prepare the state for the next dry winter potential. rice field.
The state has fallen into the second-driest two years on record, and the controversial decision aims to prevent further ecological disasters in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The effects of the California drought were worse than federal and state expectations. This is mainly because the Sierra snow cover did not fill the state’s reservoir system, but melted very quickly to replenish the dry soil. During the warmer months of the year, supplies are drawn from the state’s major reservoirs, cooling the river and stopping saltwater intrusion downstream of the delta.
However, with large amounts of water being supplied in winter and spring this year, the Water Resources Commission is blocking farmers who have relied on surface water for generations in their last ditch efforts to improve delta water quality. ..
Like California’s previous dry spells, state and federal governments have failed to manage the Delta, and parts of the estuary have become overly salty as the scorching summer continues.
For example, inadequate freshwater inflows into the Delta have led to widespread outbreaks of harmful algae, forcing the state to spend millions of dollars. On an emergency rock wall To prevent salt water from further invading farmers and cities towards pumps that send water south.
Delta is the largest freshwater estuary on the west coast and is the hub of two large water transport projects jointly run by the state and federal governments. Delta supports the state’s multi-billion dollar agriculture and provides drinking water to an estimated 25 million people.
Central Valley and state water project operators praised the unanimous vote of the Water Conservation Commission and acknowledged the lack of previous actions taken to maintain Delta water quality.
Ernest Connant, Regional Director of the US Department of Development, California, said: -Great Basin region. “There is a lack of tools and methods to meet all these competing requirements.”
The California Department of Water Resources, which manages Lake Oroville and the State Water Services Project, reflected the bureau’s sentiment.
“It’s important that California begins to do this and DWR provides that support,” added department director Karla Nemeth.
During the last drought, some Junior Delta water right holders were notified that they were not available, but the new order applies to the entire basin.
Under Tuesday’s framework, junior water right holders will first lose supply, followed by more senior water right holders, if regulators consider it inadequate. In addition, local governments and commercial water right holders may be instructed to discontinue diversion if the situation continues to worsen.
When the Water Conservancy Commission announced its proposal last month, it estimated that 5,700 water concessionaires would be the first to be affected by the first batch of reductions.
California has complex water rights, and those who received water rights from different regions before 1914 take precedence over those who later raised water rights.
Tuesday’s emergency order is based on a reduction warning and an order issued by the Water Resources Commission over the past few months. Delta water rights holders are also required to submit stricter water usage data.
An important wine country river, spurring the historically low currents of the Water Board Ordered last May Approximately 1,000 water users to reduce detours from the Russian River. The famous wine-growing areas of Sonoma and Mendocino counties were particularly devastated by the drought and received the first drought declaration from Governor Gavin Newsom.
The order was then expanded to include hundreds of water rights holders, including towns such as Cloverdale and Healdsburg, and offenders could be fined up to $ 1,000 per day. Meanwhile, Newsome is currently proclaiming drought in 50 of the 58 counties in the state. Prompted the inhabitants Voluntarily reduce water usage by 15%.
The next warning shot of the WUA came in June When notified Thousands of farmers in the state’s Delta basin said cuts were imminent. Delta farmers were already separated from the state’s two main supply systems, the Central Valley and the State Water Project, but farmers with direct rights could continue to divert from Delta tributaries.
However, with the decline in reservoir levels Catastrophic salmon death, The Water Board felt forced to follow up on the June warning letter and issue a comprehensive reduction on Tuesday.
Agricultural groups have created this directive as “the largest reduction in surface water supply in state history,” claiming that crops already on the ground could be ruined and unharvested this fall.They point out that there were many reservoirs just a few years ago and accuse the state and federal governments of mismanaging supplies. Like Lake Oroville was spilling..
According to the California Farm Water Coalition, reduced water has already reduced farmers’ planting of tomatoes, rice, grapes, corn, garlic, beans, asparagus and almonds.
“The drought situation is serious this year, but we cannot ignore the failure of state and federal leaders to prepare for the drought in a meaningful way. Science says this pattern is inevitable and The same expert argues that this pattern will be more frequent as a result of climate change. “
The Delta Water Agency collectively shouted fouls while the operators of two major water projects testified in favor of the reduction.
During more than eight hours of hearing, several water suppliers affected by Tuesday’s decision accused the Water Quality Commission of shifting responsibility for Delta water quality from the government to local farmers and landowners. They said the decision would effectively off-hook the federal government and state and punish local farmers for sending too much water last spring.
“This stored water mixes with the water in the Delta,” said Osha Meserve, a lawyer for a local agency in the North Delta. “There is always water in the Delta, and now most small farmers are responsible for finding ways to prove they have the right to water.”
Other groups said widespread cuts were likely to lead to proceedings, and state judges shot down similar orders during the last drought due to due process concerns.
Tributary officials of San Hoakin called the emergency drought policy urgent and said Delta’s water suppliers and farmers were wary of the Board’s intentions. He said water users were not given enough time to assess and comment on the loss of major irrigation sources.
“Trust has a fundamental problem,” said Valerie Kincaid, a lawyer for the authorities. “These cutoff regulations were announced a week ago and made some changes. It’s too fast and we need to hear from stakeholders in this process.”
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