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Farmers pitted against powerful bureaucrats
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STOCKTON  (AP) — State and federal water agencies are seeking an investigation into whether some California farmers are taking water released from upstream dams intended for consumers in other regions of the state.

The California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are calling on the state board that oversees water rights to investigate possible water diversion by farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, The Sacramento Bee reported Monday. The water contention comes amid the state’s drought.

Nancy Vogel, a DWR spokeswoman, said a shortage may indicate that water is being taken unlawfully.

“We recognize that we’re suffering losses of storage,” she said. “But we don’t have the data to determine precisely where.”

In a July 23 letter, the two powerful water agencies asked the State Water Resources Control Board to use new emergency powers granted by drought legislation passed earlier this year.

Delta landowners denied the allegations. Stockton attorney Donta Nomellini Sr., who represents the Central California Delta Water Agency, said the two government agencies want to appease communities and farmers as far south as San Diego that buy their water.

In addition to exporting water, the two agencies are required to release enough water into the Delta to keep out ocean saltwater and protect the estuary.

Many Delta farmers have water rights dating back a century or longer, allowing them to use as much water that naturally flows. At question is whether farmers are taking more than the natural flow, including water the two agencies held in their reservoirs.

Meanwhile, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, a group allied with Delta landowners, has countered by filing a formal complaint alleging that DWR and Reclamation are illegally diverting water from rivers that flow into the Delta.

The alliances’ executive director, Bill Jennings, said the two agencies have opened a “Pandora’s box” by requesting the investigation. “The water board needs to begin to unravel this.”