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With drought over, California farms expect to get bump in irrigation water

FILE-- In this July 21, 2015, file photo, a low-flow water emitter irrigates part of the almond trees at the Stewart & Jasper Orchards in Newman, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Farmers in a vast agricultural region of California will receive a significantly greater amount of irrigation water this summer compared to past drought years — but still not their full supply, federal officials announced Wednesday.

Record amounts of winter rain and snow hammering California have ended five years of drought, boosting most of the state's reservoirs used to supply to farms with irrigation water during hot, dry months.

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley will receive 65 percent of what they expect from a federal system of reservoirs and canals, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday.

"Any kind of improvement is welcomed," said William Bourdeau, executive vice president of Harris Farms based in Coalinga, California, adding that in this wet year he doesn't understand why farmers can't get their full supply. "I hope it goes up from there."

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley from Fresno to Bakersfield grow everything from almonds, tomatoes and melons to onions and garlic. In recent drought years the most water they've gotten from the federal government is five percent, forcing them to rely on buying expensive water and drilling new wells.

At the height of the drought, Bourdeau said Harris Farms left up to 70 percent of its 10,000 acres unplanted, using scarce water drawn from wells or bought from others to keep its orchards alive, he said.

The announcement also comes late, leaving farmers scrambling to decide what to plant this spring, Bourdeau said, adding that it takes time to buy seed and strike deals with buyers for the produce.

Pablo Arroyave, acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Mid-Pacific Region, said in a prepared statement that other regions of the state relying on the federal water system will receive their fully contracted amounts.

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