'It's just scary:' Farmers and ranchers in Anderson and Cottonwood won't get ag water

Because of low water levels in Lake Shasta, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is severely reducing water allocations to water agencies in Shasta County. The Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District, for the first time in its 106 years, will not be able to deliver water to ranchers and farmers.
Because of low water levels in Lake Shasta, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is severely reducing water allocations to water agencies in Shasta County. The Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District, for the first time in its 106 years, will not be able to deliver water to ranchers and farmers.

Due to the ongoing drought, farmers and ranchers who rely on water from the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District, will not receive any water this year, creating a ripple effect through the Shasta County agriculture community.

John Currey, the district's general manager, said this year marks the first time in the district's 106-year history that it will be unable to send agricultural water to its 800 customers.

He said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls water allocations for many water agencies in the county, can supply less than 20% of the district's typical allotment.

Most of the district's customers use water for flood irrigation on about 7,000 acres that is used mainly for cattle pasture and to grow hay, he said.

District customers said there will be ripple effects throughout the region, driving up the cost of feed and possibly forcing some ranchers to sell off cattle.

"Feed costs are through the roof," said Troy Henderson, ranch manager for Holiday Ranches in Cottonwood. "I don't know how anybody is going to afford to feed a lot of cattle. It's just scary. Damn scary."

Hay production in the county totaled $24.2 million in value in 2020, according to the Shasta County Crop and Livestock Report. However, not all the hay grown in the county is within the ACID district.

The loss of irrigation in the Anderson-Cottonwood area is also expected to affect the county's $17.7 million cattle industry, the county's annual report says.

Rick Gurrola, the county's agriculture commissioner, said the loss of water from the district will be hard on farmers and ranchers.

"As far as the effects to agriculture, it'll be devastating," Gurrola said.

An Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District worker delivers planks on a catwalk above the dam in the Sacramento River near the North Market Street Bridge on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Redding.
An Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District worker delivers planks on a catwalk above the dam in the Sacramento River near the North Market Street Bridge on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Redding.

Currey said he was told informally by reclamation officials that the district's water allocation would be cut. A formal announcement is expected next month, he said.

Don Bader, the bureau's area manager, said senior water rights holders such as ACID and the city of Redding are facing unprecedented reductions in water allocations.

The source of ACID's water, Lake Shasta, is expected to reach an all-time low this year. The reservoir was about 38% full, or about 49% of average for this time of year, according to the State Department of Water Resources.

Rainfall this year also is very low. Only about an 1½ inches of rain has fallen this year. On average, Redding receives about 15½ inches of rain by this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.

Redding also may have its water allocation reduced as much as ACID's, Bader said. He said no final decision had been made, though.

More: North State water rations cut to zero in 'historically dry' conditions

Other junior water rights holders, such as the city of Shasta Lake and the Bella Vista Water District, have been told they will receive only a minimum public safety allotment from the bureau.

Agencies facing water reductions also have the option to either buy water or pump it from the ground.

Also Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked local water agencies to go into a Level 2 Water Shortage Contingency Plan and directed the state Water Resources Control Board to consider banning outdoor watering of plants and grasses.

More: Here's how California's laws force some Redding residents to pay more for drinking water

The irrigation district diverts water from the Sacramento River at a weir near Caldwell Park in Redding. The water flows through a series of canals and ditches down to Anderson and Cottonwood.

Currey said even though the district will get about 20% of its normal allotment, it isn't enough to get water flowing through the irrigation canals and ditches.

During a normal year, water in the district's canals help to recharge the groundwater in the southern part of the county. County officials estimate the ditches add about 44,000 acre-feet a year to the groundwater basin.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or enough to supply two to three households with water for a year.

More: Warm water leads to thousands of salmon deaths in the Sacramento River

With less water recharging the Anderson area aquifer, the water table in the district could drop, causing some drinking water wells to dry up, officials said.

Steve McCarley, an ACID customer in Cottonwood, said he was worried that his pasture could die if it goes without water the entire summer.

"If it doesn't have water, all the grass seed that we have in our fields is going to dry up. I don't know if we're going to have to reseed our pasture in order to grow grass again, so there's another big expense that we may be faced with," McCarley said.

Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is part of a team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 by email at damon.arthur@redding.com and on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Farmers, ranchers in Anderson and Cottonwood won't get ag water