Saturday, February 20, 2010

Senator suggests truce in California's water fight

Reuters: Senator Dianne Feinstein, who angered environmentalists, fishing groups and other Democratic lawmakers by proposing to divert more water to California's farmers, said on Friday she was working to avoid controversial legislation. Feinstein's plan would ease Endangered Species Act restrictions to allow more water to be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for growers in the state's Central Valley.

Dramatic cutbacks in irrigation supplies this year alone from both California and federal water projects have idled about 23,000 farm workers and 300,000 acres of cropland in America's No. 1 Farm state. Feinstein's proposal has quickly become a flashpoint in the state's epic and long-running water wars as opponents say it could ultimately lead to the extinction of Sacramento River salmon and eliminate up to 23,000 jobs in the Pacific coast fishing industry.

…California's Central Valley is one of the country's most important agricultural regions. The state's farmers produce more than half the fruit, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. … Irrigation districts contract with the state and federal governments to deliver a certain amount of water to them each year. But shortages have recently kept them from getting their full allotments. Most farmers got just 10 percent of their contracted allocations in 2009 and could get less this year.

The cutbacks were forced by water shortages stemming from a three-year statewide drought and delta pumping restrictions imposed to protect imperiled salmon and smelt populations. A string of Pacific storms this winter has dumped several feet of snow on the mountain ranges that feed California's reservoirs, but officials have not declared the drought over…..

A dry riverbed in California, shot by NOAA

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