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CA: ‘Everyone loses’: Sacramento Valley struggles to survive unprecedented water cuts

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  • CA: ‘Everyone loses’: Sacramento Valley struggles to survive unprecedented water cuts


    ‘Everyone loses’: Sacramento Valley struggles to survive unprecedented water cuts
    Sacramento Valley growers protected for decades by their water rights are suffering for the first time during this record-breaking drought.

    Author: Rachel Becker (CalMatters)
    Published: 12:22 PM PDT May 23, 2022
    Updated: 12:22 PM PDT May 23, 2022
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    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — This story was originally published by CalMatters.

    Standing on the grassy plateau where water is piped onto his property, Josh Davy wished his feet were wet and his irrigation ditch full.

    Three years ago, when he sank everything he had into 66 acres of irrigated pasture in Shasta County, Davy thought he’d drought-proofed his cattle operation.

    He’d been banking on the Sacramento Valley’s water supply, which was guaranteed even during the deepest of droughts almost 60 years ago, when irrigation districts up and down the valley cut a deal with the federal government. Buying this land was his insurance against droughts expected to intensify with climate change.

    But this spring, for the first time ever, no water is flowing through his pipes and canals or those of his neighbors: The district won’t be delivering any water to Davy or any of its roughly 800 other customers.

    Without rain for rangeland grass where his cows forage in the winter, or water to irrigate his pasture, he will probably have to sell at least half the cows he’s raised for breeding and sell all of his calves a season early. Davy expects to lose money this year — more than $120,000, he guesses, and if it happens again next year, he won’t be able to pay his bills.

    “I would never have bought (this land) if I had known it wasn’t going to get water. Not when you pay the price you pay for it,” he said. “If this is a one-time fluke, I’ll suck it up and be fine. But I don’t have another year in me.”

    Since 1964, the water supply of the Western Sacramento Valley has been virtually guaranteed, even during critically dry years, the result of an arcane water rights system and legal agreements underlying operations of the Central Valley Project, the federal government’s massive water management system.

    But as California weathers a third year of drought, conditions have grown so dry and reservoirs so low that the valley’s landowners and irrigation districts are being forced to give up more water than ever before. Now, this region, which has relied on the largest portion of federally-managed water flowing from Lake Shasta, is wrestling with what to do as its deal with the federal government no longer protects them...