SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal agency said Friday it will not release any water for Central Valley farms this year, forcing farmers to continue to scramble for other sources or leave fields unplanted.
It will be the second year of no federal water for farmers in the region that grows much of the nation's produce. Many farmers had been bracing for the news as California's drought enters its fourth year.
David Murillo, mid-Pacific regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said federal officials are doing everything possible to increase water deliveries during the dire dry conditions.
"Our economy and our environment depend on it," he said.
The Central Valley Project conveys water through a system of dams and reservoirs and 500 miles of canals. The agency says it can irrigate up to a third of California's agricultural land when water is flowing.
Even before supplies were cut off, federal water has become a less dependable source for farmers. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley only received 10 percent of demand in 2009 and 20 percent in 2013.
Farmers are instead turning to storage supplies and pumping from largely unregulated groundwater wells that are quickly being depleted.
Paul Wegner, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said the federal government's announcement is another sign California needs to speed up construction of water storage projects and reform laws requiring the government to prioritize water to preserve fish species and the environment.
"It's maddening because California still struggles to manage water wisely and flexibly, especially in dry years," he said in a news release.
Some communities and endangered wildlife that rely on the federal water source will also suffer cuts.
California has a separate state-operated system of reservoirs and canal which increased distribution this year. The State Water Project announced last month that it could provide local agencies and farmers 15 percent of the water they requested, a slight increase from 5 percent last year.
The water in the snowpack, California's primary water source, is at a fifth of its normal level, according to state officials.