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 http://capitalpress.com/main.asp?SectionID=94&SubSectionID=801&ArticleID=49026&TM=49190.7

Small farmers irked by water cutback

Tim Hearden, Capital Press 2/20/09

REDDING, Calf. - A room full of men and women who raise fruit, hay, cows and other commodities awaited U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials Friday who were to announce federal water cutbacks in California.

And though some of them were from the tiny Northern California community of Happy Valley, none of them were very happy.

"You're causing a catastrophe here," Johanna Trenerry told bureau officials at the meeting in Redding on Friday, Feb. 20, moments after they announced that Central Valley Project contractors may get no water for agriculture this year because of the drought.

"It's interesting that (wildlife) refuges get 75 percent and farmers get nothing," said Trenerry, who grows fruit in western Shasta County. "How are we supposed to feed the nation? How much food comes out of California?

The Happy Valley farmers were joined by those from Bella Vista, a rural community in the rolling hills east of Redding. They all had two things in common: They grow their goods on small-acreage plots, and they're served by two of the scores of small water districts in California that contract for federal water.

Previous cutbacks have made it tough for small farms to survive, asserted Arnold Wilhelmi, a retired schoolteacher who grows fruit in Bella Vista. In the past dozen years, the number of agricultural users in his area has dwindled from 6,000 to about 270, he said.

With the allocations announced Friday, farmers' land will go dry while swimming pools in Southern California will still get their water, he said.

"I think what's happening is homes and people who live in lot-sized dwellings are going to take priority over agriculture," Wilhelmi said.

Helen Stephenson, who has an orchard in Bella Vista, agreed.

"We feel we've cut back," she said. "We've really tried because as farmers we understand . . . The cities need to be impressed. We need to explain to them the importance of letting some of those lawns go."

The farmers were also upset that wildlife refuges are slated to get at least 75 percent of their normal allocations, while cities could get 50 percent to 60 percent depending on water runoff levels. One farmer asked whether Congress could be persuaded to waive the water requirements for refuges outlined in the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.

Don Glaser, the Bureau of Reclamation's Mid-Pacific Region director, said such a reprieve is unlikely. He said Congress turned back proposals to waive parts of the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act under the recently approved stimulus bill, and that it refused to loosen environmental standards even for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

Sharon Brandon, who runs cows in Palo Cedro, near Redding, would like a reprieve to come from somewhere.

"Now we're paying $10 to $18 a bail for hay. How long can people afford to pay that," she said. "And if I can't produce manure, he (Wilhelmi) can't fertilize his trees."

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