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Feds tell Central Valley farmers not to expect aquaduct water--again

A grim, if not unexpected reminder of California's drought now settling into its fourth year: the federal Central Valley Project has announced steep cutbacks in supplies it will deliver this year, with Central Valley farmers among the hardest hit.

The State Water Project, the other, slightly smaller of the two massive aquaduct systems that moves water around the state, announced similar bad news last month.

Central Valley Project managers said Friday they probably won't deliver any supplies to farmers in the system who don't have senior water rights, which is to say mostly corporate landowners who are guaranteed first dibs under decades old federal compacts. That means, barring significant rain and snow during what's left of the rainy season, most valley farmers will be stuck with zero allocation from the feds for the second year in a row.

The dire outlook also portends likely water rationing along with rate hikes for many residential users whose water, or at least part of it, depends on the Central Valley Project. (San Francisco is an exception, since its water is piped from Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.)

From the LA Times:

Moreover, the zero allocation doesn't apply to farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys who have historic water rights that the government must honor before they dole out supplies to everyone else. The bureau expects to send those farmers 75% of their sizable contract amounts, or a total of about 2.6 million acre-feet.

"We have quite a few buckets to fill before we can start making water available" to growers who lack senior rights, said Ron Milligan, CVP operations chief.

Cities supplied by the project will get at least a quarter of their typical deliveries, and federal wildlife refuges will probably get 75% of normal deliveries.

All told, officials estimated that the project would deliver about half the water it does in a typical year.

But for many Central Valley growers, 2015 is looking worse than last year, when they left between 400,000 and 500,000 acres unplanted for lack of water, dealing a $2-billion blow to the state's agricultural sector.

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