Thousands of California farmers cut off from river water as drought worsens


FRESNO COUNTY, California. (KSEE) – Central Valley farmers will once again be seeing a cut in water supply after state regulators approved an emergency order banning thousands of them from taking water from major rivers and streams Tuesday. 

The decision is in response to the second year of drought. Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said he anticipated this move and said it’s another obstacle in what’s already been a very difficult year. 

The State Water Resource Control Board voted unanimously to implement an “Emergency Curtailment” plan.

Jacobsen said the measure is a first, with many farmers now facing unprecedented challenges. 

“These farmers, a lot of them, this is their only surface supply. This is the only supply of water they have. So they are going to be in some relatively tough circumstances here within a relatively short time,” he said.

The decision cuts farmers off from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed. Jacobsen said the move comes at a tough time, with many growers already seeing their water allotment reduced to nothing or close to it. He said this move will impact upwards of 4,000 farmers.

The vote by regulators came following hours of conversation and public comments.

“Something I’m hoping to see incorporated in this process are easy exemptions for us small ranchers that are often 100% reliant on these small springs,” Ken Perano a small farm owner said.

“This seems awfully fast. My suggestion to build water right holder trust is to slow this process down and to hear from us a little more,” Valerie Kincaid a water law attorney representing San Joaquin Tributaries Authority said.

In May Governor Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation of a state of emergency in 41 counties due to drought and later called on residents to voluntarily reduce water usage by 15%. Jacobsen said with no end to the drought in sight, the passage of the emergency order was expected, but will still be a hardship for many.

It takes effect in as little as two weeks.  

“This is definitely one of the driest years on record in 150 years of record keeping, but now we’re facing even additional surface cutbacks that are going to mean even more farmers being impacted. (For some people) this is historic this is the first time they’ve seen this type of cutback,” Jacobsen said. 

Regulations can remain in effect for up to one year but could be repealed if conditions improve, or could be extended if they don’t.

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