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Eyewitness News Investigates: Carryover Water Woes

Farmers are bracing for the possibility that water they paid for and reserved for this season, will be taken away.
Eyewitness News investigates an unprecedented situation Westlands Water District farmers could be facing. The Bureau of Reclamation could withhold water that growers saved from last season.  

Some farmers say they are losing hope because of the uncertainty over what's called "carryover" water. To them it seems unfair. They planned and saved water, and now they may not get to keep it.

Buddy Mendes has been farming for 30 years, but he's never seen the situation he and other westside growers could be facing. About $150 million worth of carryover water may not flow to their fields next year. It's been paid for, but not yet used because growers were told to conserve and save. They anticipate zero percent water allocation this year, and Mendes says if carryover water is withheld, it'll be devastating.

"The core of your ranch that you've been able to keep, those employees, they're in danger of being told, 'I don't even have jobs for you,'" said Mendes. 

The Bureau of Reclamation recently released its water supply conditions for the Central Valley Project. Reservior storage is just over half of the 15 year average. A spokesperson says there may not be enough water to fulfill contacts with farmers, municipalities and wetlands. 

"It's a very serious issue and we understand that. We understand the impacts and we are trying to work with them to determine what the best steps are," said Louis Moore, Public Affairs Officer.

A decision hasn't been made yet. Meanwhile, local lawmakers are writing letters like this one to the bureau, advocating for valley farmers. 

"I asked them to do the right thing and make sure people get their water, that they paid for, that they worked for," said Valadao.

Mendes says he's running out of hope. He's bracing for an agricultural collapse, with trickle-down effects.

"You would see it pretty much immediately," said Mendes.

A decision could come as early as Tuesday, or as late as the end of February. If they don't get to keep their water, farmers will not be reimbursed the money they paid for it.
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