[env-trinity] North Valley farmers may sue for more water

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Mar 19 09:50:22 PDT 2014


By David Bienick
North Valley farmers may sue for more water
Growers say feds have violated contract
UPDATED 7:09 PM PDT Mar 17, 2014
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Brian Fong/KCRA
WILLOWS, Calif. (KCRA) —Farmers in the northern Central Valley said Monday they may sue the federal government for failing to provide the minimum amount of water they said a 50-year-old contract requires
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The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last month it planned to provide farmers along the Sacramento River with 40 percent of the water they normally receive.
"It came as a surprise," said Larry Maben, who owns an 800-acre rice farm near Willows.
Maben said a contract signed in 1964 guarantees that farmers in this part of the state will never receive less than 75 percent of their normal supply.
"I think those contracts should be honored. I mean, they wrote the contract. They knew what they were doing when they signed it," said Maben.
The Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District provides water to Maben and about 1,300 more growers in a stretch along Interstate 5 between Williams and Willows.
Thad Bettner, general manager of the district, said his members began pumping water from the Sacramento River long before 1945 when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed Shasta Dam.
For years after the dam was built, farmers and federal officials argued about how to apply the farmers' long-standing water rights.
In 1964, the two sides settled the case with a contract and the North Valley farmers became known settlement contract users.
Because of that contract, Bettner said the North Valley farmers' water allotment cannot be lowered below 75 percent, even though South Valley farmers have been told not to expect any federal water this year.
"Those junior water rights users know that in years like this when water is tight, they're likely not going to get any water. So the system works," said Bettner.
"Our 40 percent allocation to the Sac River contractors was based on current conditions and availability. We sincerely hope things improve for all Californians," wrote Margaret Gidding, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, in an email to KCRA 3.
Reservoir water has been so dependable in the Sacramento Valley that few farmers have sufficient groundwater wells to serve as backup.
Maben said he planned to use two groundwater wells on his property for the first time since the 1992 drought but would still likely have to leave hundreds of acres fallow.
Bettner also pointed out that California's rice fields serve as habitat for migrating water fowl and that if the birds are forced to share fewer fields they are more at risk for disease.
He said he planned to meet this week with Reclamation officials and to ask for proof that they truly can provide no more than 40 percent.
If not, he said, he will discuss the situation with the region's congressional representatives and will consider filing a lawsuit.
"It could be an issue that we raise legally, but that's a much longer road to go down. I mean, obviously this year we're looking for some short-term relief. We have to get this issue resolved quickly," said Bettner.
Rice planting typically occurs during last March and early April.

Read more: http://www.kcra.com/news/north-valley-farmers-may-sue-for-more-water/25025922#ixzz2wQbp7E5R
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