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California Water Board Considers Voluntary Water Cut From Farmers

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In this photo taken Monday, May 18, 2015, a farmer checks the moisture of land just planted with corn seed on land he farms near Stockton, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

The State Water Resources Control Board is considering whether to allow some farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to voluntarily cut back their water use. In exchange, they want the board to agree not to curtail their remaining water.

Some farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta who hold the most senior water rights may agree to a 25 percent cut in their consumption. The proposal comes as California water regulators consider mandatory curtailments.

Under the proposal, farmers who hold rights to divert water along a river or stream would either reduce irrigation use or leave fields fallow. In exchange, they want guarantees that regulators wouldn’t restrict remaining water. 

“There are literally hundreds of individual farmers who are having a very hard time this year making basic decisions," says Jennifer Spaletta, an attorney for a group of farmers.

She says the proposal would be a practical solution to avoid a long court battle.

"I have a fear that if you roll out a curtailment in the middle of the summer, that the compliance with that curtailment will be sparse," says Spaletta.

It’s unclear how many farmers would agree to the cutbacks, but this could be a model for agriculture throughout California. Some water board members say they would be comfortable with such a deal. A decision could come as soon as Friday.