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Ag, refuges affected by California water shortage

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Despite a recent series of storms in early March, California is still faced with a major water crisis thanks to three consecutive years of below-normal rainfall. Nearly 95 percent of the state is  currently in drought conditions with 70 percent categorized as extreme or exceptional, while the Sierra snowpack, which acts as a natural water storage unit, is only at 33 percent of its normal conditions.

Governor Jerry Brown recently declared a drought emergency, signing into law a $687 million drought-relief package to deal with a water shortage he has categorized as the worst in the state's modern history. The governor also called for Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent voluntarily with mandatory rationing possibly on the horizon to keep businesses and farms from drying up over the summer. 

The Central Valley Project, California’s largest water delivery system run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, announced in February that there will be no water this year for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the richest agricultural areas on the planet, while severely curtailing the amount for many farmers, businesses and even urban areas in the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley. Regions that rely heavily on water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, such as Fresno, Merced and Kings Counties, will be hit the hardest.

The decision will also have environmental consequences, constricting the amount of water sent to California refuges that are a vital part of the Pacific Flyway and habitat for many migratory waterfowl species. 

DU is currently monitoring the state’s possible engagement in an unprecedented measure to further change deliveries and hold back water due to an undefined threat to public health and safety, potentially affecting releases to California rice growers whose fields provide important habitat for waterfowl making the trek from up north in the winter. 

California is not the only state contending with water issues. Central Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Texas all are in midst of their own drought conditions which could lead to more extraordinary water conservation measures in the near future.

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