California Farmers’ Water Rights Taken Over By 2015 Drought Restrictions

When it comes to the California drought, 2015 has not been good news for the water supply. Now, even California farmers’ water rights are in the cross hairs of the new drought restrictions, and farmers are saying it is possible they could lose the farm — literally.

In a related report by the Inquisitr, NASA predictions claim the California drought map will worsen to the point that the water supply runs out completely in 2016. Some experts blame the megadrought on global warming, and NASA has estimated that about 11 trillion gallons of water are needed to end California’s drought.

As part of the California drought restrictions list, it was recommended that “immediate mandatory water rationing should be authorized across all of the state’s water sectors, from domestic and municipal through agricultural and industrial.” The elephant in the room was California farmers’ water rights, since the UCLA Institute for Environment and Sustainability estimates that agriculture uses almost 80 percent of the water at 8.6 trillion gallons per year, while urban residential use is about 13 percent at 2.4 trillion gallons per year. Other major consumers of California’s water supply are tiny in comparison, usually amounting to less than one percent.

California Bottled Water Drought Chart

The fight over California farmers’ water rights affects all sorts of industry, from nuts to wine to even fish farms. Water rights allow holders such as cities, companies, and farms to pull water directly from rivers and streams. The way the system works, the first to make claim to water rights are the last to have their water rights taken away. This means there are entities which have water rights going all the way back to the Gold Rush, while new water rights holders will be the first to lose out as California’s drought continues to worsen.

Economics expert Don Barton told PBS that everyone is pointing fingers about who is eating up the water supply.

“As California has been drained by drought, some farmers have suffered cutbacks from the dams and aqueducts that distribute water. And just as environmentalists blame nut farmers for bleeding the fish dry, the farmers cry foul on the fish and on the feds.”

Don Barton of GoldRiver Orchards, Inc. says the battle over California farmers’ water rights actually started years ago with politics.

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“Farmers in California have seen significant reductions in water since the 2009 congressional action which forced the Army Corps of Engineers to release huge amounts of water into the ocean for fish purposes. And when that occurred, the whole game changed, particularly for those guys in the southern part of the valley…. If we don’t have water, we don’t have a business, we don’t have a livelihood, a way to continue to provide for our family.”

Due to this history, the battle over California farmers’ water rights has turned into a legal and political battle. According to Fox News, it’s estimated that only a small percentage of water supply users with revoked rights have actually complied. This Wednesday, the state government ordered that the oldest water rights holders also have their share of the water supply slashed by 25 percent, and even farms and other organizations will feel the weight of this decision.

“For me, 25 percent I can handle,” said Gino Celli, whose farm includes 5,000 acres. “Anything more than that — man, I’m done.”

Not everyone agrees. According to John Herrick, manager of the South Delta Water Agency, even if 25 percent of some California farmers’ water rights are taken away, then they are out of business. Speaking to the Associated Press, Herrick says this means a lawsuit, although he admits it’s likely the politicians will win the battle.

[Image via Google Images]