In calling for water restrictions by executive order last week, Governor Jerry Brown has required cities and towns across the state to reduce water use by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. But farmers, whom the Chronicle points out are responsible for 80% of the state's water use while representing just 2% of its economy, won't have to cut back.
"They're providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world," Brown said on ABC’s “This Week,” in defense of excluding farmers from limitations. The restrictions, however, will apply to cemeteries, golf courses, and other swaths of land that require heavy water use.
Before the cutbacks, some California farmers had already been left without irrigation water from federal surface supplies, according to Brown. As a result, many rely on limited groundwater, leaving them in a vulnerable position Brown doesn't want to exacerbate. The governor did say that farmers using century-old water rights, thereby allowing them more water access, "are probably going to be examined."
In 2014, Brown asked Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 20 percent over 2013, which KRON4 reports resulted in a 10 percent reduction across the state. Back in 1977 during his first tenure as governor, Brown asked for a voluntary reduction of 25%.
As a result of the restrictions, NBC reports that some rice farmers may be in a better position to sell their water than to actually use it. According to estimates, some stand to make $700 an acre-foot, which would net more than their crops might. Charlie Mathews, one Northern California rice farmer who was interviewed, is planning to grow on his land although his district has forged a deal to sell some of its water to the Los Angeles area. "If we don't find a way for people in the south to get water when they desperately need it, we're afraid they'll change our water rights," Matthews said. "So if we don't sell it to them, they'll find a way to take it."