farmers irked by water cutback
- 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,"
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
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."