California farms to get more water from US, state
* Increased irrigation supply follows 3 years of drought
* Senator Feinstein says she will drop controversial plan
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Drought-stricken farmers in California were granted a measure of relief on Friday when federal and state officials said they expected to supply them with significantly more water this year than last.
Drastic cutbacks in irrigation supplies over the last year alone from state and federal water projects idled about 23,000 workers and 300,000 acres (121,400 hectares) of cropland in America's No. 1 farm state.
Three years of drought had prompted the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Water Resources Department to essentially turn off the tap for most farmers who depend them for water to irrigate their crops.
This year, the bureau expects to supply most users with 100 percent of the water they are contracted to receive from the federal government, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a written statement.
Salazar said irrigation districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would get 30 percent of their allotment.
Separately, California officials said they were increasing the amount of water they expected to deliver from the State Water Project this year from 5 percent to 15 percent of normal.
California's Central Valley is one of the country's most important agricultural regions, and the state produces more than half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States.
"Valley farmers have suffered tremendously during California's three-year drought," Salazar said.
The announcement comes amid a new squabble over water prompted by a proposal by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California to ease Endangered Species Act restrictions imposed to protect salmon and smelt species and allow more water to be pumped out of the delta for farmers.
Feinstein said after the announcement that she would put her draft legislation on hold for the time being.
Her proposal had become a flash point in the state's long-running water wars as opponents said it could ultimately lead to the extinction of Sacramento River salmon and thousands of job losses in the commercial fishing industry.
The water outlook for California was markedly improved by a recent string of Pacific winter storms that dumped several feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountain range that serves as the state's principal source of surface water. Spring snowmelt is expected to replenish reservoirs that had fallen well below normal for the past three years due to drought.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)
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