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In Fourth Year Of Drought, Many Calif. Farms Won't Get Federal Water


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. California is entering its fourth year of severe drought, and it's just been given some bad news. Again, for the second straight year, many Central Valley Farms will not get access to federal water supplies. NPR's Nathan Rott has more.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Every year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation calculates how much water they think a region will have and how much of it they can dole out to who. It's a fairly simple equation with some fairly complex pieces. You have water in reservoirs, water expected in precipitation and water that's frozen in so packs, which becomes runoff. David Murillo's job is to add that all up. He's the director of the Bureau's mid-Pacific region. And he says this year's math is ugly. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is only a quarter of what's considered normal. The long term forecast is dry, and there's a whole lot of folks vying for what little water there is.

DAVID MURILLO: That's why there's just not enough water right there to meet everybody's needs.

ROTT: Some landowners with long-standing water rights will get their water. But Murillo says...

MURILLO: They are going to be a fair number of people that do not get water.

ROTT: Who will have to rely, as they did last year, on wells and other resources. Murillo says he's talked to many of those people, and they say that's problematic.

MURILLO: They're telling us that those other sources of water are exhausted. They're not there this year.

ROTT: Westland's Water District in Central California is one such place.

GAYLE HOLMAN: It's absolutely devastating.

ROTT: Gayle Holman is a spokeswoman for the district.

HOLMAN: We just came off of literally the worst year in this area, and then to find out that - guess what? You're going to be repeating it.

ROTT: Westland's Water District is comprised of about 600,000 acres. Last year, because water restrictions, farmers let more than a third of that go unplanted.

HOLMAN: That's literally 300-square miles that typically would be planted just sitting there empty, wasted.

ROTT: Holman says this year could be worse. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.