Drought, new water law may lead to more fallowed acres in California

California’s new groundwater law may bring changes in the state’s use of agricultural lands because of the requirement that farmers and water-supplying-district authorities bring their groundwater situations into balance.

Several speakers discussed the new law during a Groundwater Management Workshop held in conjunction with the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif. One of the speakers, Mark Watte, a farmer with land near the International Agri-Center, site of World Ag Expo, discussed how the new law could impact farmers during an interview at the workshop.

"What it means is that over time, the state has said we have to get our aquifer in a balanced state; that is, that over time we can't pump out more than we put in," said Watte, who is also a director of the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District.

"In a nutshell, in the absence of additional surface supplies, we will, especially in dry years, have to fallow some land. We've just been overdrafting, and one of the real frustrations is that of the total water supply available to us here in California fully 50 percent of that is going to environmental purposes."

Watte said federal court rulings that a large portion of California's surface water must be used for such purposes as protecting the Delta smelt "is really exacerbating the actual drought we're having by carving out a portion of those surface supplies.

"The state's mandate is upon us; they've given us a long window to implement it; and they've let us locally develop a plan in place. But it's like a circular firing squad. They're going to let us do it so we're going to police ourselves. I would hate to be the policeman who has to go to the grower on July 4 and tell him he has turn his pumps off for the rest of the season."

For more on California's new groundwater law, visit http://legal-planet.org/2014/10/08/californias-new-groundwater-law-an-interactive-timeline/.

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