Central Valley Farmers Deeply Concerned by Water Limitations

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Local farmers met at the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau office in Modesto Thursday night to discuss curtailment notices they say the State Water Resources Control Board sent to some properties.

Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) hosted the town hall meeting. Olsen told farmers that a grassroots approach was needed to address issues facing younger generations of farmers.

“You start talking about taking water away from a farmer, those are fighting words,” Jake Wenger said.

Wenger is the Division 4 Director for Modesto Irrigation District. He is also a 4th generation farmer.

“Pretty much anybody and everybody out there is going to receive a letter from the State Water Board at some point in time saying you’re going to be limited on how much water you can use this year,” He said.

Some junior rights holders, farmers with water rights dating after 1914, told FOX40 they have already received curtailment notices and had water inspectors visit their farms.

The notices, Wenger said, prevent farmers from diverting water from the Stanislaus, Tuolomne, Merced and San Joaquin Rivers this year. Now, senior rights holders, farmers with water rights dating before 1914, believe the State will curtail their water usage next.

“We’re hoping we get some answers tonight. What is our future? My 2 kids, 14 and 10 years old. They’re out there on the tractor with me. Shovel and in the jeep. It’s a family farm,” Andrew Stein said.

The third generation farmer told FOX40 he developed a walnut crop with his children for the first time this year, on the same land his grandfather harvested for his livelihood.

“All of the farmers I know, we’re not wasting anything. We’re just using it to survive and keep our farms going,” Stein said.

Stein went on to say the farmers he knows are smart with the water they divert from local rivers, because it’s the only water they’ve ever used.

The farmers at the meeting believe the State Water Control Board will consider curtailing senior rights holders as soon as July 1st.

“When that happens, most likely it’s going to end up in lawsuits, and you name it,” Wenger said.

Some speakers said they believed the curtailments are an attempt by the State Water Board to set a legal precedent now for water rights after the drought.

“We just feel the didn’t plan for our future,” said Stein.

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