An early estimate from the Northern California Water Association (NCWA) expects a nearly $1 billion impact to Sacramento Valley farmers from fallowing land this year. The association, which includes irrigation districts, predicts farmers will have to fallow 370,000 acres in the state’s productive rice growing region.
The rice industry will face a $251 million hit to mills, dryers and suppliers, including more than $76 million in lost wages for 1,500 jobs. Production will drop, with less than half of the typical volume expected.
The west side of the Sacramento Valley in Colusa and Glenn counties will feel the brunt of the cutbacks. The Sacramento River Settlement Contractors area will have just 80,000 acres to farm, compared to 450,000 in a typical year.
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A deal with state and federal wildlife agencies slashed the water allocations for Settlement Contractors from 75% for critically dry years to around 15%, leaving national wildlife refuges with the same allocation.
The impacts will hurt the waterfowl that depend on the flooded rice fields for food. Millions of birds will consolidate into isolated water sources, substantially raising the risk for disease outbreaks that could decimate populations.
According to a NCWA statement, “the water resources managers are working hard to provide limited water for all these important purposes in the most effective way possible.”