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Drought means water cutoffs to Delta farmers
Governor drought
Governor Gavin Newsom expanded the state's emergency drought declaration to Stanislaus and 38 other California counties on Monday, the same day he introduced a $5.1 billion package for water infrastructure and drought response at the San Luis Reservoir (Photo contributed).

Delta farmers — who account for a large chuck of San Joaquin County’s $2.6 billion annual crop production — have been warned worsening drought conditions could mean they will not be able to pump from waterways passing their fields and orchards.

About 6,600 farmers in the Delta were told by the State Water Resources Control Board who have rights to use water from the Central Valley estuary of "impending water unavailability."  

The announcement underscores the significant impact a mid-April decision by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to approve an annual water sale to assist farmers to the west of the SSJID territory in the South Delta Water Agency 266 acre feet of water at $150 per acre foot. That represents about 1/10 of a percent of the district’s overall anticipated water allocation this year

Some Delta farmers have riparian water rights. But state and federal water agencies limit the ability to tap into more than a minimal amount at best given the water that flows through the Delta much of the year is the result of stored water being released as opposed to natural riparian flows.

"This is how dry things are," water board Chairman Joaquin Esquivel said.  "The hydrology that we're seeing is not there . . .  There will not be enough natural flow."

The state also must provide enough flow in the rivers to maintain populations of protected fish species in rivers while keeping cities and communities from running out of water.

It's unclear when the allocations will be cut or whom it will affect. Some farmers have first crack at supplies under a complicated distribution system involving rights-holders. Many farmers already have been told they will get little or nothing from two large allocation systems, the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.

In May, the federal government announced that it was slashing allocations for agricultural and urban uses because of projected drops in water flow to the Sacramento, Feather, Yuba and American rivers.

"The 2021 water year for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin is currently the driest since 1977," the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation warned.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last month declared a drought emergency for much of the state, including the Central Valley, and the U.S. Drought Monitor says most of California's population is in areas suffering from extensive drought just a few years after California emerged from the last punishing multiyear dry spell.

California has seen unusually dry winters and extraordinarily warm spring temperatures. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state's water, was at just 59% of average on April 1, when it is normally at its peak.

And the warm spring led to quick melting of the snowpack in the waterways that feed the Sacramento River, which in turn supplies much of the state's summer water supply.