The federal government says it will cut water to farmers in California's parched Central Valley - one of the nation's top agricultural areas - by 75 percent and to cities in the region by up to half.
State officials also made new plans for dealing with California's five-year drought. Gov. Pete Wilson scheduled a news conference Friday to release a task force's recommendations.Federal officials Thursday announced water cutbacks to the Central Valley, the fertile farmbelt that extends from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south and contains more than a third of the state's 9.2 million acres of irrigated farmland.
The 75 percent reduction, on top of state and local cuts, could take up to 1 million acres out of production, said Jason Peltier, a spokesman for water contractors who sell the Central Valley Project's water to local irrigation districts and other users.
"It's going to be very tough on a lot of farmers," Peltier said.
Officials gave no estimate on how much the cutbacks could cost California's $16 billion-a-year farm industry, the nation's largest.
Although Central Valley farmers get only about 20 percent of their water from the federal government, growers say the cuts are critical because they reduce what has been a reliable supply at a time when other sources are drying up.
State Water Project officials announced two weeks ago they were halting all irrigation water to farmers and cutting supplies to cities by 50 percent.
Central Valley growers get about 5 percent of their water from the state, mainly from the State Water Project, and about 75 percent from local agencies and groundwater supplies.
"We know there's no water in the reservoirs, and that also means there is no local water to make up the deliveries," said Mike Henry, a California Farm Bureau spokesman. "That means districts are going to be pumping it out of the ground, when they can, as we've seen for the last few years."
Groundwater supplies already have been exhausted in some places, however, particularly in the southern Central Valley.
"The effects are going to vary widely from one farmer to another depending on whether they have access to groundwater," said Don Upton, a spokesman for the 600,000-acre Westlands Water District in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the state's largest user of Central Valley Project water.
He said 170,000 acres of Westlands farmland - about 30 percent of the total - would have to be taken out of production, at a loss to farmers of more than $200 million.
Rainfall throughout California is far below normal as the state experiences its worst drought since the mid-1970s. Reservoir storage and groundwater levels are below 1976-77 levels in some areas, authorities said.