- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - About 200 California farmers aiming to meet a voluntary water conservation target of 25 percent have submitted plans to the state that include planting less thirsty crops and leaving some fields unplanted.

The farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of San Francisco proposed the deal to spare themselves deeper mandatory cuts later.

Officials say the plan could serve as a model for other farmers around the state.

WHO STRUCK THE DEAL?

Farmers in the delta approached the state with the conservation effort.

Growers in the region work less than 10 percent of the total irrigated farmland in California, but they’re located in a key area. About 25 percent of California’s river water runs through the delta and is sent throughout the state.

The farmers have the strongest water rights in the state and never before had their river access restricted.

WHAT DID THEY PROPOSE?

Delta farmers proposed to use 25 percent less water this summer by reducing irrigation, leaving fields unplanted or using other strategies to achieve the savings. State water officials said they wouldn’t force deeper cuts for farmers who made agreements.

HOW WILL THEY MEET THE TARGET?

Farmers are reducing crops such as alfalfa and planting crops that grow faster such as silage corn for livestock feed rather than corn eaten by people. Farmers say they will irrigate some crops once a month rather than twice. The tactic will save water and also reduce production, likely yielding less income for farmers.

HOW WILL OFFICIALS MONITOR THE VOLUNTARY CUTS

State officials will perform site inspections to confirm that farmers are following their conservation plans. Satellite images taken every 16 days will be compared with the plans. At the end of the summer, farmers will provide a report verifying their drought plans were followed.

HOW MUCH WATER WILL BE SAVED?

State officials aren’t sure yet and say they’ll come up with an estimate based on the plans submitted by farmers. State delta water master Michael George said he expects significant conservation.

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