Rippey said the state saw significant production cutbacks in some of the more water-intensive crops in 2014, including cotton, corn and rice. Corn acreage, although not a top crop in California, showed a 39 percent decline year over year, and the state's $5 billion rice crop was down almost 25 percent in acreage.
"As long as this drought continues, we'll see somewhat of a shift—either in acreage being fallow or you'll have a shift to something a little less water-intensive," he said.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cited low reservoir storage, combined with the sparse snowpack and low snow water content, for its announcement that farmers with junior water rights in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys will receive zero percent water allocations for a second year from the Central Valley Project, a large federal irrigation system that in good years provides enough water to irrigate about 3 million acres—or about one-third of the agricultural land in California.
Erin Curtis, a spokesperson for the federal agency, said that senior water rights holders could be in jeopardy of getting cuts, too. Some senior rights date back the 1800s.
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"We're not even certain if we will be able to meet their obligations fully," said Curtis. "So they will get their contractual quantities reduced. The folks who are further down the line (junior rights holders), so to speak, will be getting no water from the project."
That said, there was a bit of good news Monday, when the California Department of Water Resources announced a slight increase from 15 percent to 20 percent in its projected allocation of state water project supplies to public water agencies in 2015. Approximately 25 million Californians and nearly 1 million acres of irrigated farmland, mostly in Kern and Kings counties, rely on the state water project.
"This year in terms of precipitation statewide, Northern California has done better than last year," said Jeanine Jones, an official with the state water agency. "And in particular a series of wet storms in early December allowed us to get water into storage and to allow the state to move it into the San Luis Reservoir, which is crucial for being able to make that delivery."