SoCal offering to pay its highest price ever for water

calif-aqueduct-sign-lao.jpgCalifornia Aqueduct, Pearblossom. File photo: LA Observed.

The rice farmers of the Sacramento Valley are being offered $700 for each acre-foot of water they allow to flow south to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the huge agency that provides water to many of the cities around Los Angeles. With farmers able to make more than $2,000 for every acre they leave fallow this year, some are opting in, says KQED in a new story. But all bets will be off if the drought deepens and the rice farms don't get any water to begin with.

From a Sacramento Bee story last week:

The price being offered is so high, some farmers can make more from selling water than from growing their rice. Many are willing to deal: Nine irrigation districts, mainly serving rice growers along the Feather River basin, have made tentative deals to ship a portion of their water to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and several other water agencies later this summer….

As many as 115,000 acre-feet of water could be sold, or more than 37 billion gallons, to Metropolitan and its fellow buyers. The result: a reduction in the amount of rice planted as farmers take fields out of production. As it is, California’s rice industry is struggling to recover from a difficult 2014, in which 140,000 acres were idled due to drought and one-fourth of the crop didn’t get planted.


The deal also shows how severe the drought has become. A year ago, some of the same Sacramento Valley water districts shipped some of their water south at what seemed like an exorbitant price: $500 an acre-foot.

This year’s transaction will make 2014 look like a steal. Metropolitan and the others are paying $700 an acre-foot. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, roughly a year’s supply for two Southern California households.

“That reflects the desperation and the competition from the people down there,” said Ted Trimble, general manager of the Western Canal Water District in Richvale, Butte County, one of the participating sellers.

Western Canal and eight other Sacramento Valley water districts agreed to the tentative sale to a group of purchasers led by the State Water Contractors, which represents agencies that rely on the State Water Project. Metropolitan will get 61 percent of the water and the Kern County Water Agency will get 31 percent. The rest will be split among seven smaller agencies, mostly south of the Delta.

Rice farming in California? Yes, for oh about a century now. I wrote about the pressures on rice farmers and their water use back in 1991.

The state Water Resources Control Board is expected to vote today on new restrictions limiting outdoor water uses and a few other mild limits. The Sacramento Bee editorial board today calls the action long overdue, "amid the worst drought in at least a generation, and possibly the worst in modern California history." JPL senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti created a media boomlet when he wrote last week in an LA Times op-ed that California reservoirs have only about a year worth of water left.

Also: The dry heat has prematurely baked away the poppy flowers at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, KPCC reports.

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