California restricts water use

Agricultural users asked to supply additional information to help combat illegal diversions and wasteful use of water.

Following the lowest snow pack ever recorded and with no end to the drought in sight, California Gov.  Edmund Brown Jr. announced actions that will save water, increase enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state’s drought response and invest in new technologies that will make California more drought resilient.

Brown issued an executive order which imposes at 25% reduction on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies, which serve 90% of California residents, over the coming year.

Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state’s ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under the order.

It is estimated that between 400,000 and 500,000 acres were not planted last year and 17,000 workers lost their jobs. A significant portion of California's more than 400 commodities already have been impacted by the ongoing drought. Top crops there include almonds, walnuts, grapes, tomatoes, strawberries and nursery plants, in addition to milk and cattle, according to the state's ag department.

Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.

Agricultural water suppliers that supply water to more than 25,000 acres are to include steps taken in their water management plans and those that supply water to 10,000 to 25,000 acres of irrigated lands will not be required to develop a detail drought management plant. The state is also providing grant funding to agricultural water suppliers to help develop and implement the water management plans.

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, welcomed the steps to identify illegal diversions and wasteful use of water. He said roughly two-thirds of farm water suppliers are already meeting previous reporting requirements.

“Farmers have already taken steps to conserve the amount of water they use,” Wade said. “They have spent $3 billion since 2003 to install more efficient irrigation systems, one and a half times the amount Southern California water users spent building Diamond Valley Lake for new water storage.” The use of drip, micro and subsurface irrigation more than doubled from 1991 to 2010, from 16% of the state’s irrigated acreage to more than 42% today.

“These activities and more have become an everyday practice on California farms and will continue as farmers maintain their commitment to provide a safe and reliable supply of food for consumers,” Wade added.

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