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Farmers May Sell Water Meant For Growing Crops During California's Drought

MODESTO (CBS13) — Instead of growing crops, some California farmers will sell their water to other farms during the fourth year of the state's drought.

Not all farmers will use their allocated amount of water this year, and several irrigation districts will allow farmers to sell their extra water.

Canals are currently dry, but Central Valley farmers will start pumping in water soon. But not everyone will need it, as some annual crops can survive a year without water. Others, including almond orchards and vineyards can't.

To help the effort, the Modesto Irrigation District approved farmer-to-farmer water sales.

"Farmers are allowed to sell their extra water to other farmers within the Modesto Irrigation District boundary. MID stays out of the pricing for that," said spokeswoman Samantha Wookey.

The San Joaquin County Farm Bureau says in a drought, farm-to-farm water sales are nothing new. And the water price is reasonable, because most farms want to help keep their neighbor in business.

"People are trying to take care of home. You will see some water sales, one farmer to their neighbor, within districts. They're selling their allocation of water based on the rights they have for one year," said Bruce Blodgett with the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau.

Other districts like the South San Joaquin Irrigation District do not allow farmers to sell among themselves. Instead, it has a strict water allotment program.

But a recent Modern Farmer article claims farmers are making money selling their water rights to the state.

The California Department of Water Resources says that's not true. It does not buy water, only transfers water. It also doesn't work with individual farmers. Last year's water transfers were only between a few Northern California irrigation districts and contractors with the Central Valley Water Project.

Blodgett says selling groundwater is so controversial, many counties will not allow it.

"San Joaquin County has a prohibition on the export of groundwater. We want to make sure that water stays local here," he said.

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