Climate Action

Farmers Step Forward to Save California from Drought

California is facing one of the most severe droughts the state has ever endured. Now entering into its fourth year, the drought has caused the state government to act against water shortages since California State Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency back in January of 2014. But eliminating irrigation water deliveries through public canal systems and ordering urban water use to cut back by 25 percent isn’t enough to save this parched state. Throughout the drought, the agriculture industry has endured criticism for using an unrestricted 80% of California’s water supply. That finally came to an end on May 22 when California State Water Board approved the proposals of farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to voluntarily reduce their water use. Farmers with the oldest riparian water rights in the Delta can either voluntarily cut off their water use by 25 percent from 2013 levels, or leave a quarter of their lands unplanted. Farmers in the Delta have been diverting water, in this case from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River, since the Gold Rush era and has never been affected by the water curtails before this drought—and it’s unclear on how many will participate in this voluntary program. Last month, the junior right holders in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River were ordered to stop pumping water from the rivers and this measure has now expanded to senior right holders. The measure is also the first such a program has been implemented since the 1970s. The difference is that this time, the curtailment is far more extensive than that of the 1977 drought. Those who do not participate voluntarily will face mandatory curtails later this year. Thus, this act of goodwill from farmers gives way to lighter restrictions later on. To keep track of whether farmers are sticking to water cuts, state officials will use satellites and aerial photography to make sure that the farmers are leaving their lands dry. Unarguably, this drought is a critical issue. The government and every citizen in California need to take steps to prevent more severe consequences. But we should also keep in mind that this is not an issue just related to the California State alone. California is one of the main producers of fruits, vegetables and nuts in the USA. Therefore Californian droughts are affecting the overall US economy. Droughts and water shortages will increase in frequency and severity with climate change. Without sufficient water, plants, animals and human life cannot be sustainable. Californian farmers’ voluntary move to reduce water usages is a step forward to save California.   Seoyoung Kim, Intern