SACRAMENTO — A California state senator wants Gov. Jerry Brown to consider alternatives to a zero-water allocation for agriculture, which he said would be devastating to farmers and the state’s economy.
Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, told the governor the state’s 80,500 farms and ranches earned a record $44.7 billion for their output in 2011 and that their productivity would be affected by a denial of water from the State Water Project.
“Given your family’s roots in the North State, you know the importance of farming and its significance to the region and the state economy,” Nielsen, a rancher, told Brown, whose family owns ranchland in Colusa County.
“Water is a scarce resource, and California is suffering from an historic drought,” Nielsen wrote. “All users must share the scarcity equally. This is a much more equitable way to divide the allocation of water for the benefit of all users – farmers and residential.”
Should the no-water policy go into effect, farmers will not be able to water their trees, crops and livestock and dairy and cattle herds would be reduced, Nielsen told the governor. As a result, consumers still recovering from the recent recession will face higher prices at the grocery store, he wrote.
The senator plans to work with those affected by the shutoff and wants Brown to hold “collaborative meetings” with farmers and others “to present constructive alternative solutions to zero supply,” Nielsen spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen said in an email.
The state Water Resources Control Board has already approved a petition by project water users to temporarily forgo a requirement that enough water be let out of storage to meet fish standards, chairwoman Felicia Marcus said.
However, the state must be certain that enough water remains in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for salinity control, Marcus said.
“If salinity control were lost, water in the Delta would be too salty for any uses in the Delta or for export, so it is in everyone’s interest that the projects figure this out, which is what they are now doing,” she said.
The State Water Project announced in late January that most agricultural customers would get no deliveries in 2014 if dry conditions persisted and that Sacramento Valley water districts with long-standing water rights may only get 50 percent.
As expected, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation followed suit in late February, announcing it expects to have no water available for farms without senior water rights either north or south of the Delta. Senior rights holders along the Sacramento River are slated to get 40 percent.
Sen. Jim Nielsen: http://district4.cssrc.us
Gov. Jerry Brown: http://gov.ca.gov/home.php
State Water Resources Control Board: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov