Watch CBS News

Solano County water war? Local leaders say state plans to take 75% of area's supply

Could Solano County lose 75% of its water?
Could Solano County lose 75% of its water? 03:12

SOLANO COUNTY -- Leaders in Solano County fear a state water project will run them dry, proposing to take 75% of the county's current water supply.

They say the staggering impacts stem from draining local businesses to reinstating draconian water restrictions and threatening agriculture, which is the county's second leading industry.

"This is our stone fruit orchard. You can see the cover crop is really good right now," said Cliff Howard, showing CBS13 around his Solano County farm.

Everything he grows — from eight types of fruit to wine grapes — requires water, most of which ends up on dinner tables at San Francisco restaurants or wineries in Napa.

He fears that if the state proposal leaves Solano County with just a fraction of its water, he will be left with a fraction of his business.

"It could be devastating to a farm like ours. I don't know what we would do," Howard said.

Local leaders say California's State Water Resources Control Board, in its Bay-Delta Plan, buried a proposal that would divert 75% of Solano County's current water allocation from Lake Berryessa to the bay.

"It's an 8,000-page document, and if my staff had not read all 8,000 pages they would have missed it," said Catherine Moy, Fairfield mayor and a Solano County Water Agency board member.

Moy said that she cannot get a clear answer from the State Water Board about why they need 75% of Solano County's water other than that it is to support projects protecting fish like salmon.

CBS13 recently reported that environmental advocates are currently accusing the state of killing an illegal amount of endangered Chinook salmon populations with its own water pumps that divert water through canals to other parts of California.

"We've spent $15 million on salmon habitat in Putah Creek which comes from Lake Berryessa. We can show we have salmon there that have never been there ever. We are making up for other areas that are killing salmon and still, they want to take 75% of our water? That's cockamamie. That's nuts," Moy said.

Moy said Fairfield and the surrounding counties would have to revert to water restrictions not seen in a generation.

"It'll be like the 1970s. We had a severe drought and we had to put bricks in toilets and told people not to always flush. Not every time. We could go there," Moy said.

It is a potential water loss that Moy said would be impossible for Solano to survive. She and other city and county leaders are already coordinating ways to stand up to the state.

"We will negotiate, but if they push us, we will have to file a lawsuit," Moy said. "We're prepared to go to war."

Other local leaders like William Brazelton, president of the Solano County Farm Bureau, also feel left in the dark by the state.

"No one knew about this. No one expected it," Brazelton said. "The manager for the Solano Irrigation District sent out a letter basically blowing the whistle on all this."

Brazelton is a fourth-generation farmer in Vacaville and said Solano County would never look the same again if this proposal is approved.

"Our operation would overnight look like it did 100 years ago when my great-grandfather started and everything was dry-farmed," Brazelton said.

He sayid that means saying goodbye to Solano's tomatoes, fruits, nuts and wine grapes.

"Production will go way down without the water. That ultimately means higher prices at the grocery store," Brazelton said.

Small farmers are pleading with the state to hear them out before Solano County dries up.

"I would want them to know that their decisions impact real people," Howard said. "Farming isn't just a job, it's producing food for our entire country."

Mayor Moy said another significant concern for the city of Fairfield is its relationship with the largest water user within city limits: Anheuser Busch, one of the biggest employers in the county.

The city is contractually obligated to provide Anheuser Busch with the water it needs; Moy says losing 75% of Solano County's water would make holding up their end of the bargain impossible.

"The contract states they get the water they need before anyone else. If they can't get it, they can put a stop on any new growth in Fairfield," Moy said.

Moy believes the water cuts would also cut any and all housing growth in the city of Fairfield and Solano County.

"The state is talking out of both sides of its mouth. They want more housing but want to take our water. You can't have more housing without water. It will stop," Moy said.

CBS13 reached out to the State Water Board on Friday afternoon for comment. A spokesperson responded by saying they would not be able to provide responses to questions sent until Monday.

A series of public hearings on the topic will run from April 24-26 in Sacramento. Solano County leaders, farmers and residents say they plan to be there to fight against the plan.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.