As Drought Lingers, CA Considers $1.5 Billion to Buy Farm Water Rights

The proposal comes as unprecedented water restrictions spread across the drought-stricken state just in time for summer fun

A proposal to use up to $1.5 billion to purchase farmer’s senior water rights has made its way into the budget negotiations between lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom, the Associated Press reports.

It comes at a time when 98 percent of the state is experiencing a severe drought and is part of the larger $7.5 billion Water and Drought Package “to build a climate resilient water system.” In addition to the buy-back program, the package also includes $500 million for the Department of Conservation “for acquisition and repurposing of lands to implement the Sustainable Ground Water Management Act,” $1.5 billion to ensure Californians have safe drinking water, and $1.5 billion for Drought Resilient Water Supple grants.

Water shortages continue to plague the California, even as statewide water consumption increased by 18 percent in April, the Los Angeles Times reports. And agriculture truly is Big Agriculture in a state that would rank as the world’s fifth largest economy if it were its own country, with a GDP of almost $3 trillion. So, the proposal faces opposition.

“This makes my blood boil,” is how state Sen. Brian Dahle put it, according to the AP. “It’s ridiculous. You are forcing them into a corner where they have no other option.”

California produces almost 50 percent of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and is the only state to export commodities such as almonds, artichokes, dates, and walnuts.

Farmers are allocated water for their crops each year through a complicated governing system based on seniority, according to AP. California’s water can’t be owned, “but permits, licenses, and registrations give individuals and others the right to beneficially use reasonable amounts of water.”

How the state would go about buying up $1.5 billion of land associated with water rights remains to be determined, but some say it’s not all that substantial—and that the benefits could be much greater.

“The $1.5 billion may sound like a lot of money but it’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things,” John McManus, executive director of Golden State Salmon, told CBS Sacramento. “We’re talking about the possibility of providing a small amount of additional water to keep species currently on life support from going extinct and hopefully to rebuild the population.”

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