Thirsting in America's Fruit Basket

To protect the endangered Delta Smelt fish, pumping of water from California's Sacramento Delta has been drastically cut back. Add in the state's three-year-long drought, and the result is a major problem for the state's people and farmers.

"The pumping restrictions were a huge victory for environmentalists, who fill the ranks of one of the three armies in California's perennial water wars. With increasing success since the 1970s, greens have argued that the delta in particular, and California's dammed rivers and wetlands in general, are on the verge of ecological collapse and must be saved.

For the other two armies, the restrictions amounted to a stinging defeat. One army consists of urban consumers in the dry south, represented by the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to about 19m people, over half the state's population, and gets 30% of its supply from one of the two delta aqueducts. The authority has had to pay farmers in the Central Valley to give up their allocations and let their fields lie fallow, says Jeffrey Kightlinger, its boss. This year it also had to impose mandatory conservation measures.

The pain has been far worse, however, for the third force: agriculture."

Known as the country's fruit basket, the fertile Central Valley of California has seen its productivity fall precipitously in recent years.

Full Story: Of farms, folks and fish

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