As California’s drought deepens, state regulators just accepted a historic offer by a group of farmers to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 25 percent. Farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are giving up some of the water that is historically theirs to use, so long as the state does not impose deeper mandatory cuts in the future. The delta is a major part of California’s water system, and the fertile land around it produces nearly half of the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States.

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After learning that the state may order the first water cuts in 30 years, 350 farmers gathered at a local grange to discuss ways to stave off deeper cuts. Speaking to the Redding Record Searchlight the delta’s water master Michael George said “That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll all participate” – but he believes many will make the cuts.

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Under the voluntary deal, delta farmers have until June 1 to show how they will cut their water usage by 25 percent during the typically rain-free months of summer. The farmers will either leave part of their land unplanted or find other ways to conserve water.

Experts say that other states will be able to grow the lower-profit crops that Californian farmers drop, which will keep food prices from dramatically increasing. While lawns in California turn brown, farmers have been able to fight water restrictions by saying that they grow food people need. “You have people in the state who haven’t a clue of what it’s really like in the Delta — we’re not the ogres we’ve been portrayed to be,” Delta farmer Dennis Gardemeyer said in The New York Times. “We need to start to educate people and make everyone understand we’re doing everything we can to provide water for the rest of the state that’s in dire need.”

While the 4,000 delta farmers that will likely sign on to the proposal only make up about five percent of California’s growers, the move could send a message to other farmers — including corporate farms — that use much of California’s water. Jonas Minton, the former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources said, “If agriculture as a whole came anywhere close to matching the kinds of urban cuts that have been implemented we would have sufficient water for this year and next.”

Via The New York Times and Redding Record Searchlight

Images via Robert Couse-Baker, Solano Snapper, and Fikrit Onal