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State water plan could cut into Central Valley farm production

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016, file photo, water flows through an irrigation canal to crops near Lemoore, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif (KBAK/KBFX) - The plan to save a declining salmon population in Northern California comes with a cost to Central Valley farmers.

After nine years of research, the California State Water Control Board is finalizing a plan to help bring the salmon population back, after sharply declining by 90 percent in recent years.

"The conditions are very degraded," said Erin Foresman, supervisory senior environmental scientist for the State Water Board.

Dams and other changes to their habitat have removed many areas of water where salmon go to spawn.

The proposal would take water from other parts of California and redirect it northward, boosting the flow of water to support salmon habitat. It would also take water away from parts of the Central Valley.

"We don't have a full picture of what it means," said Curtis Creel, the general manager of the Kern County Water Agency. He said he's concerned farmers may take a financial hit.

"Taking away a source of water, a major source of water that is originating elsewhere in the state, will have a huge detrimental effect in Kern County," Creel said.

He said this might require farmers to rely more on groundwater, which is state regulated.

The State Water Board estimates the plan would cost the San Joaquin River Valley $69 million in lost agricultural production, or 2.6 percent, a year.

The California Farm Bureau Federation is hoping for a better option.

"We need to work to find a way to achieve our fisheries goals while also sustaining our rural communities," said Jack Rice, senior counsel at the California Farm Bureau Federation.

"To do that, we look at ways where the local community can work on habitat, where they can provide improved or enhanced management of invasive species, where they can be part of the solution and not just a target of the regulation," Rice added.

The State Water Board is taking those concerns seriously, seeking public comment with plans to finalize the proposal in August.

"This effort is really about sharing the river thoughtfully, because we as Californians deserve healthy communities, healthy agriculture and a healthy natural environment," said Matt Holland, environmental program manager at the State Water Board.

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