|SACRAMENTO, Calif. --
Federal water managers said Friday that they plan to cut off
water, at least temporarily, to thousands of California farms
as a result of the deepening drought gripping the state.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said parched reservoirs
and patchy rainfall this year were forcing them to completely
stop surface water deliveries for at least a two-week period
beginning March 1. Authorities said they haven't had to take
such a drastic move for more than 15 years.
The situation could improve slightly if more rain falls
over the next few weeks, and officials will know by mid-March
if they can release more irrigation supplies to growers.
Farmers in the nation's No. 1 agriculture state predicted
it would cause consumers to pay more for their fruits and
vegetables, which would have to be grown using expensive well
"Water is our life _ it's our jobs and it's our food," said
Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the farm bureau in Fresno
County. "Without a reliable water supply, Fresno County's No.
1 employer _ agriculture _ is at great risk."
The drought would cause an estimated $1.15 billion dollar
loss in agriculture-related wages and eliminate as many as
40,000 jobs in farm-related industries in the San Joaquin
Valley alone, where most of the nation's produce and nut crops
are grown, said Lester Snow, director of the Department of
Jeff Peracchi, a pomegranate and grape grower in Huron,
said he was laying off employees because without water, there
wouldn't be much fruit to pick.
"I can't just say I won't farm this year _ I have to do
something. But I'm having to lay off guys who have been with
us for years," Peracchi said. "At this point, I'm planning to
farm to keep the fruit as healthy as I can, but I'm not sure
I'm going to be able to be profitable."
California's agricultural industry typically receives 80
percent of all the water supplies managed by the federal
government _ everything from far-off mountain streams and
suburban reservoirs. The state supplies drinking water to 23
million residents and 755,000 acres of irrigated farmland.
Farms supplied by flows from the state would still get 15
percent of their normal deliveries, but the combined state and
federal cutbacks would leave more than 1 million acres of
fields and orchards with no aboveground water supply, Snow
The state depends on winter snow in the Sierra Nevada for
much of its summer water supply, but January was one of the
driest winter months on record. This year, both the state and
federal reservoirs have reached their lowest level since 1992.
Water for crops also was restricted by court decisions
cutting back deliveries that flow through the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta, a freshwater estuary home to the delta smelt, a
fish scientists believe is on the brink of extinction.
Dwindling supplies would have to be routed to cities to
ensure residents, hospitals and fire crews have enough to meet
minimum health and safety needs, said Don Glaser, the federal
reclamation bureau's Mid-Pacific Region director.
The water shortages are so severe most cities will have to
start mandatory ration programs by summertime, and residents
will be asked to reduce their usage by 20 percent, Snow said.
"You've got to think about water as a precious resource,"
he said. "It may seem a stretch to conserve 20 percent of your
water, but that's nothing in comparison to the consequences of
the drought and job loss in agriculture."