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Farmers say Westside water shut-off will be ugly

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made it official today: West Valley farmers will receive no federal water this season.

The toll on the region is expected to be severe. A University of California, Davis study predicts that up to 75,000 people will lose their jobs and more than $2 billion will be lost from the San Joaquin Valley’s economy.

“It is ugly,” said Mark Borba, a longtime west Fresno County farmer. “There are growers out there who have no water or who are drilling wells in hopes of getting them operating in time and still others are bulldozing their almond trees.”

Three consecutive dry winters and reduced water pumping to protect dwindling fish in Northern California rivers helped create the dismal forecast. West siders get water from northern rivers through canals belonging to the federally operated Central Valley Project.

While the news was expected, it hit farmers in the Westlands Water District, the largest affected district, especially hard. Growers in that region expect to fallow more than half of the 600,000 acres in the district, forcing thousands of people out of work and triggering an economic ripple effect that could extend beyond a farmer’s fields.

Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands district, said in a news release that "there is no question that many years worth of investments will be lost."

"This is not merely a natural disaster. It is the product of a broken water system that has been neglected for too long," Birmingham said. "It is the inexorable result of an inflexible regulatory regime that makes all of our water conveyance problems worse."

Borba, who grows a variety of crops including processing tomatoes, almonds, wheat and lettuce, will idle nearly 500 acres out of more than 3,000 he farms. And as a farm manager for a grower in Salinas, Borba won’t farm any tomatoes or cotton on 1,200 out of 4,700 acres.Check for updates, and pick up The Bee the next day for more information.