Northstate rice farmers await water allocation

Historic drought threatens rice production

Northstate rice farmers await water allocation

RICHVALE, Calif. - Amid a year of historically low water deliveries caused by California's severe drought many Northstate farmers intend to cut their planting of crops.

"Yeah, we're nervous," said Carl Hoff, the President and CEO of the Butte County Rice Growers Association. 

In four days, the California Department of Water Resources will announce how much water from Lake Oroville will be sent to Northstate rice farmers, and thus, how many of the area's 100,000 acres of rice fields will grow crop.

"Obviously, how much rice gets planted impacts our operations from purchasing of supplies," said Hoff.

The Department of Water Resources can either allocate the full 100 percent of water to the region, in which case rice production stays the same or it can give 50 percent or less.

"I'm not going to make a prediction [on what the Department of Water Resources] will do," said Sean Earley, the general manager of the Richvale Irrigation District. "In discussions, we've gone 180 degrees from getting 100 percent of our water to it being cut by 50 percent.

The DWR's decision is far-ranging for small communities like Richvale, as ancillary businesses like farm equipment and trucking rely on a healthy rice crop.

"Absolutely, all the way down to the restaurants down the road, the land-leveling businesses and the farmers that custom farm for other people," said Earley.

In the even there is a cut in water allocation, growers will need to pump wells, which is a costly process but one that will keep rice production to at least 75 percent of full capacity.

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