California farmers begin selling water instead of crops as drought reaches critical stage

Natural News
March 29, 2015
Sandy J. Duncan

(NaturalNews) California farmers are making more money selling water than planting their fields in some cases. The rice industry in the Sacramento Valley has really been struggling with this year’s drought. Some farmers are choosing not to plant this year and are cashing in on their water rights instead. This controversial move on the part of the farmers is not a cut and “dry” deal. “In the long term, if we don’t make it available we’re afraid they’ll just take it,” said Charlie Mathews, a fourth-generation rice farmer with senior rights to Yuba River water. [Photo Credit: Orchards in the San Joaquin Valley (Lindsey Hoshaw/KQED]

Matthews and other local farmers “have agreed to sell 20 percent of their allotment to Los Angeles’s Metropolitan Water District as it desperately searches to add to its dwindling supply,” reported CBS San Francisco.

This kind of arrangement is gaining in popularity especially as water prices continue to climb, making the water more valuable than the returns from crops.

Legal Challenge

“California has neglected its groundwater,” said Barbara Vlamis, director of the non-profit AquAlliance. Her group is suing to stop the water transfer because of the mounting groundwater concerns. “You’re putting an added stress on the groundwater basin,” Vlamis said. “In the last year alone, there have been wells in Glenn County that have dropped 32 feet. Nineteen feet in Butte County.”

Vlamis believes the problems stem from the fact that groundwater is not regulated in California, so state and federal agencies don’t understand the impact that transfers can have. “It’s shoddy,” she said. “The agencies that are so casual about moving water out of here need to truly analyze what they’re doing to this region.”

As the lawsuit moves forward, all parties involved become increasing nervous about how this will be resolved. Those that have cut huge water deals and are ecstatic to be able to profit in spite of the terrible drought are not excited about the prospect of losing that sale. There doesn’t seem to be a win-win solution regardless of the outcome of the legal battle.

California water regulators have approved additional restrictions on lawn watering and are adding new limits on water use by businesses as the drought continues. The average Californian used 72.6 gallons of water per day in January, according to the Water Resources Control Board. The State Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously Tuesday to extend and expand its emergency drought regulations. This will also include much stricter reinforcement of these restrictions and higher fines accessed to those who don’t follow the guidelines.

State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus reported,

We are in an extremely serious situation. We can and must do better conserving our water during 2015 because there’s just no guarantee this horrendous drought will end [any time] soon. If 2015, and then 2016 continue to be dry, we will look back on today, and this month, let alone the last year, wishing we’d saved more water now. This board is prepared to make some tough decisions in the coming months, including adopting permanent, rather than emergency water conservation measures, going forward. It is that serious.

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