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Low water content may hinder harvest

Farming has always been a tough life. But come this summer, it may get harder than the snowpack this time of year.

The low snowpack could spell dire consequences for the Golden State’s farmers, the California Farm Bureau is cautioning.

The farm bureau has formed a crisis task force that met Tuesday to address the water supply problem, which is essentially California’s lifeline to its crops.



“It’s going to be an interesting summer. What we’re seeing now is that even a slight reduction in the snowpack ends up being deeper cuts in the water supply,” bureau spokesman Dave Kranz said from his Sacramento office.

Kranz predicts an escalating problem in light of an energy crisis – especially for farmers in the Central Valley and the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley.



“When the snowpack falls below par, water users get cut deeply,” he said.

And this use is split between farmers and fish.

With the weight of the federal and state governments bearing down on saving endangered fish species, users across the board are forced to cut back.

The federal government has already warned that the Central Valley Project, which represents the largest single supplier of water in the state, will get 40 percent of its needed supply from water thoroughfares like the Trinity River.

So users like farmers will have to make do through whatever measures they can.

With a low snowpack, farmers may use their underground pumps to get the water they need. One problem – some of these pumps use electric power. More often than not, they’ll probably be used at a time when demand goes up and rolling blackouts are likely, Kranz pointed out.

The apprehension has prompted some farmers to cut back on production.

“We’re already seeing a reduction in acreage for crops,” he said of a challenge exacerbated by high production costs and low wholesale prices.

For example, the crop report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts a 5 percent drop in the number of acres farmers will use to plant corn.

“It makes you wonder what would happen if we have two or three dry years,” he said, trying to avoid the dreaded “D” word.

“It’s too bad we don’t have more reservoirs to store water in California. If we had more in the bank now, we’d have enough for fish and human needs,” he said.

The dilemma has caught the attention of state lawmakers too.

“We have a big crisis on our hands this summer,” Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, said.

The state legislature released $135 million in state support Tuesday for the CalFed water program, The Associated Press reported.

The measure by Sen. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, cleared the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on a 9-1 vote. It now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the last stop before the Assembly floor.

CalFed is a state-federal agency created to improve water quality, make water deliveries more reliable for farmers and cities and protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay.

The CalFed plan, announced last June by Gov. Gray Davis and former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, is expected to cost $8.5 billion during the next decade.

However, Leslie contends that California could get stuck with the price tag of the plan, as President Bush’s budget proposals don’t include any funding for CalFed.

The assemblyman tried to get a water project of his own through the legislature that would expedite a change in ownership of a dam system east of Placerville from Pacific Gas and Electric to the El Dorado County Irrigation District. With the project, Leslie wants to circumvent California Environmental Quality Act guidelines. A version of the project is headed to the Appropriations Committee.


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