Byron farmers fight for water rights

BYRON, Calif. (KTVU) - Though many city dwellers say the solution to the drought is to make farmers use much less water - farmers see their water rights as sacred property rights they're willing to band together to fight for. 

KTVU spent the day in the farming community of Byron, about 50 miles east of San Francisco, where a water cut off has forced farmers to head to the courts.

The Board of the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District sued the State Water Resources Board for abruptly cutting off water rights more than 100 years old, leaving the farmers scrambling to find alternative resources for as much as 3,000 percent of what they pay now. 

Many of the folks are family farmers - not corporate farms. "We've been here, I'm the third generation on the farm," says Chris Castello, an oats, alfalfa and cattle farmer.

"I'm a fourth generation farmer. We've been in this area for a hundred years," says Jason Tennant, a walnut and cherry farmer.

"It's just a strangulation," says Lucy Salvador, a U-Pick cherry farmer.

Salvador says families visit her farm every spring for fresh sweet cherries off the tree. But, trees need water.

"They just cut us right off at the knees. There was kind of no gradual decline in water usage or kind of letting us cut back on our own," she says.

Salvador is selling off some of her prized livestock and petting zoo animals, so there will be less mouths to water.

"We're not even hoping for a crop with that financial impact but we're actually hoping to get enough water to keep our trees alive at quite a substantial increase in cost, which again, impacts us," says Salvador.

Jason Tennant blames the state for poor planning. "I (wish) they would have planned ahead, we could have spread it out a little bit and we could have done some planning and work together. But, as it is now, they're trying to cut us off completely," says Tennant.

The shock won't end on the farms. "A lot of the local farms aren't going to make it. You’re going to have to import a lot of the local food. The prices are going to go up because there's going to be less farming here in California," says Tennant.

"The price at the grocery store is going to quadruple and people are going to lose jobs that move and everything else; all the products that move in and out of the state and everywhere," says Chris Castello.

The farmers want both the water back and damages for the crops they're losing.