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El Nino Deluges California With Water, Yet Farmers Left In The Lurch

A California water official said Friday farmers are not optimistic about their chances of getting water from the government this year, despite a strong El Nino hammering the state with rainfall.

Deputy General Manager of the Westlands Water District Johnny Amaral told reporters federal authorities don’t expect surface water in his district any time soon. The message is bound to stifle San Joaquin Valley farms, most of which receive the bulk of their water from Westlands.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reports most key California reservoirs are filled to the brim because of storms brought on by El Nino, but despite reservoirs being 49 percent full, farmers are unlikely to see an ounce of that water.

Agency officials won’t disclose how they intend on allocating water until early February.

Amaral criticized regulations aimed at protecting endangered fish, noting he thinks rules allowing storm water to flow away from irrigation ditches and into the sea are to blame for the farmers’ plights.

Indeed, environmental regulations in the state require nearly 4.4 million acre-feet of water be diverted to protect fish estuaries.

These regulatory measures are lamentable, critics say, because they still apply during drought years. Rainwater is often flushed into San Francisco Bay to maintain the habitats of fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

California was ravaged so badly by droughts last year that Gov. Jerry Brown announced a historic mandatory 25 percent reduction in statewide water use.

Some people, however, feel California’s droughts are made worse by draconian cuts in water usage and by environmental regulators.

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Andy Lipkis, founder of Tree People, an organization devoted to finding creative ways to solve California’s drought, agrees with Amaral and those who criticize regulators for pushing good water away.

“The biggest misconception is that it doesn’t rain in California,” Lipkis said in an interview with Forbes Magazine.

“The fact is, it does rain, even in Los Angeles and southern California. But we throw away most of that water because rather than collect it, we let it drain into the sea,” he added.

Lipkis said California officials should do everything they can to catch rainwater.

“An inch of rainfall in L.A. generates 3.8 billion gallons of runoff, so you’re talking about more than 12 billion gallons of water that could be captured, but that flows within hours down our concrete streets and into the ocean,” he said.

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