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CALFED, farm bureau settle tiff over water distribution

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Posted: Monday, August 15, 2005 10:00 pm

Government water agencies have agreed to work with farmers as they try to find enough water to keep the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta healthy.

The California Bay-Delta Authority, also known as CALFED, the coalition of state and federal water and wildlife agencies, said this week it had reached a settlement on a lawsuit filed last April by the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The bureau had protested the environmental reviews covering the authority's Environmental Water Account. The account is one way the authority makes sure there is enough fresh water in the Delta to keep open-water fish like the Delta smelt healthy, but the Farm Bureau said the authority was helping wildlife at the expense of farmers.

The Environmental Water Account includes 190,000 acre-feet each year that could be pumped from the Delta, sent south by way of the federal Delta-Mendota Canal and state California Aqueduct, and then put back into the San Joaquin River. It also includes 190,000 acre-feet each year bought from water districts.

The account has been in place since the CALFED Record of Decision was approved by member agencies in 2000. Long-term studies of the account will spell out potential effects of water redistribution through 2030.

Even in those years when there isn't enough water to go around, the Environmental Water Account gets what it needs.

"There's only so much water in the pool," said local farmer Jim McLeod, also president of the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District. "If you give water to anyone, you end up taking it from farmers."

The result is that land goes out of production and farmers see their revenues plummet.

Chris Stevens, chief counsel with the Bay-Delta Authority, said the settlement reached this week brings farmers into the discussion when the authority studies the effects of water redistribution.

"Part of the agreement is to collect data on crop idling," Stevens said.

Brenda Southwick, associate counsel with the Farm Bureau, said the bureau just wants to make sure CALFED doesn't overlook California farmers. If water were to go to wildlife habitat instead of to farmers, the bureau would expect to see studies that justified the redistribution.

"What we found over the years was that they didn't have an answer to that question. Just taking water away from farmers isn't going to solve the problem," she said. "If you're fallowing land as a way to free up water that has an impact on your communities. There are all kinds of physical and economic issues that come up when you move water around."

Contact reporter Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com.

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