California plan would pay farmers to grow less to save water | Government and politics


Some environmental groups disagreed. The additional water announced Tuesday would be about half of what state regulators in 2018 said were needed to fully protect the environment, according to Doug Obegi, senior counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Additionally, the deal was negotiated privately between the Newsom administration and some of the state’s largest water agencies. Environmental groups, Native American tribes and other communities were left out.

“It’s a fundamentally illegitimate and proprietary process, and it’s no surprise the results are bad for fish and wildlife. The old adage, ‘If you’re not on the table, you’re on the menu,’ springs to mind,” Obegi said.

Most of California’s water comes from rain and snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada, the vast mountain range that stretches east of the state. This water once flowed unhindered, creating vast wetlands that fostered a rich environment for birds, fish, and large predatory mammals like bears and mountain lions that supported Native American communities.

Today, all but about 5% of these wetlands are gone, consumed by a complex system of dams and canals that diverts much of the water to large reservoirs. These reservoirs are then used for drinking water in the state’s major cities and for irrigation for farmers in the Central Valley who provide most of the country’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables.


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