Like many California farmers, Dennis Gardemeyer fears his state’s record-setting drought could lead to tough measures to radically curb the trillions of gallons of water used by state growers each year. On Friday, California water resources officials approved a proposal Gardemeyer helped push through that will see some farmers curb water consumption by 25 percent.
“There is a threat that the state might try the unthinkable and tell us that we cannot use any of the water,” Gardemeyer told the New York Times. “I and almost everyone in the Delta think that will result in all manner of lawsuits and they will not prevail, but there’s always that threat.”
Growers who participate in the proposal can choose to cut their consumption of water by 25 percent or let a one-fourth of their land lay fallow in 2015 during the June-September growing season of the fertile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
“This proposal helps Delta growers manage the risk of potentially deeper curtailment, while ensuring significant water conservation efforts in this fourth year of drought,” State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement released Friday.
It’s not known how many of the estimated 4,000 farmers in the central California delta region will participate. But, even if all of them sign up, the impact on the state’s total water consumption rate would be minimal. Even if all of the region’s farmers decide to go along with the deal, the Delta is home to only 5 percent of the state’s farmers. The area produces so-called row crops, like grocery store staples tomatoes and asparagus.
Agricultural production is by far the biggest consumer of water in the state, sucking up 8.6 trillion gallons of water per year compared to 2.4 trillion gallons consumed by state residents, according to data from the California Department of Water Resources obtained by CBS. Some farmers in other parts of the state, such as the Central Valley -- which has been hardest hit by the yearlong drought -- have already been cut off. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta contributes about $500 million worth of agricultural production during typical growing years.