California's drought raises rural-urban tensions over water
Farms see fallow fields and laid-off workers, and some urban consumers face their first water cuts in two decades.
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Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledged $260 million in federal stimulus money for drought relief and water restoration projects in the state. The funds include $109.8 million for a screened pumping plant at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam to protect fish populations, $20 million for Contra Costa Canal, and $40 million for immediate emergency drought relief in the West, with a focus on California.Skip to next paragraph
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Angry Central Valley farmers were not impressed. It's a "slap in the face," said Mr. Patricio, describing the stimulus pledge as "a touchy-feely, warm-and-fuzzy, feel good, pork project without any true benefit."
Patricio, who is also chairman of the board of directors for the Western Growers Association, says he has laid off hundreds of workers on his 2,000-acre cantaloupe farm near Firebaugh in the past few years, and watched dozens of his neighboring farmer friends go belly up.
"We've spent hundreds of millions studying the problem when we could have spent that same money on fixing it," he says.
Farmers in the Central Valley are asking for a new canal to get water from the Sacramento River, as well as a relaxation of environmental restrictions resulting from a 2007 court ruling limiting the amount of water pumped south from the delta – a giant sponge that absorbs runoff from the wetter north.
The ruling was in response to a suit by environmental groups that held that the water pumping through the delta endangered several species of fish, including smelt, green sturgeon, and winter and spring salmon.
The MWD also raised its rates citing the higher costs caused by these environmental restrictions. It has approved an 8.8 percent increase in the district's base wholesale water rate plus a $69-per-acre-foot Delta surcharge.
The surcharge reflects the loss of state water supplies due to the environmental collapse of the Delta, said MWD general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger in a press statement. The collapse has "required us to purchase expensive replacement supplies, accelerate funding of alternative water supply programs and finance Delta sustainability projects, including the protection of endangered species," he said.
Environmental regulations in the delta will reduce water deliveries by as much as 40 percent, he added.
"We're beginning to get to the real cost of water," says Colin Sabol, vice president of marketing for ITT Corporation, the world's largest provider of pumps and water equipment. He notes that US consumers pay on average only one-third of what Germany pays for its water.
Germany "charges a price that allows them to reinvest in their infrastructure," Mr. Sabol says.
Gloria Goodale contributed to this report.