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Feds to release minimal water supplies to farms

FRESNO, Calif.—Farmers in California's drought-stricken agricultural basin finally will get a meager supply of federal water to nurture their crops this summer.

Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that heavy storms in March allowed them to boost the amount of water sent to customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the critical region where most of the nation's fruits and vegetables are grown.

Water districts that supply some of the nation's largest farms in that area will receive 10 percent of the amount they are entitled to under government contracts.

Three years of drought already have forced farmers to let thousands of acres of cropland turn to dust. Hundreds of farmworkers have lost their jobs.

Still, many farmers said some irrigation supplies were better than nothing.

"Every drop of water counts," said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, whose members are major employers in Fresno and Kings county. "Farmers who otherwise would use groundwater to irrigate orchards or vineyards will now be able to reduce pumping of groundwater."

The district, which produces about $1 billion in crops annually, estimates that the water shortages have meant that 300,000 acres of lettuce, tomatoes and other crops won't be planted this year.

Farmers north of the delta, the inland waterway through which drinking water flows to 25 million Californians, fared slightly better. The U.S.


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Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday they could expect to get 15 percent of their contracted amount.

March rain and snow storms brought water levels in California's largest reservoirs—Shasta and Oroville—to about three-quarters as full as they should be at this time of year.

Still, state officials warn California remains in a dangerous drought. Water also must be reserved for fish in the fragile delta ecosystem.

Last week, the state Department of Water Resources boosted its deliveries to 30 percent of the water typically allocated for cities and farms this year.

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