While it’s not yet formal policy, those who manage California’s vast water system are edging toward a historic reallocation of the state’s shrinking supply that could have a life-altering impact on its largest-in-the-nation agricultural industry.
For many years, farmers have used about 80% of the water diverted from rivers for human use, with the rest going to urban areas for drinking, watering lawns, maintaining swimming pools, taking showers, cooking and commercial or industrial use.
Prolonged drought has compelled all users to make do with less. However, the biggest loser has been the environment — free flows to maintain habitat for fish and other aquatic species — which generally gets about 50% of the total flow.
In recent years, federal judges have ordered cuts in agricultural water diversions to enforce the Endangered Species Act and the state Water Resources Control Board has moved in the same direction on an emergency basis due to drought. However, environmental groups want permanent habitat-enhancing reductions.
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