Sales of water by farmers to the state in California's drought emergency will be voluntary, and compulsory taking of water will be avoided, state Water Resources Director David Kennedy says. ``I don't see that at all,'' Mr. Kennedy said when asked if proposed sales of water by growers of rice and other crops would be made compulsory.

California, the nation's No. 1 agricultural state, is in the grip of a five-year drought. It is runnning out of water for crops. Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose have restricted water use.

The state Department of Water Resources, which Kennedy heads, is sounding out some growers of rice, tomatoes, and corn in northern California on a deal where they would be paid to keep their fields idle and turn their irrigation water over to the state.

In years of normal rain, California dams capture about 36 million acre-feet of water during the winter for use later in the year. About 80 percent of this normally goes to agriculture. Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, normally uses about 6 million acre-feet a year. The state hopes to collect 500,000 acre-feet through the buyouts.

Kennedy shared a weekend news conference with US Sen. John Seymour (R) of California, after the two inspected depleted reservoirs behind some of northern California's big dams.

Senator Seymour said the federal government will provide aid for farm workers who lose their jobs because of the water shortage. He said he also will seek low-interest loans and other help for growers.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pete Wilson (R) warned in his weekly radio broadcast that fighting fires in California's tinder-dry forests will be hampered this year because part of the California National Guard is in the Middle East participating in Operation Desert Storm.

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