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Brown defends not requiring water cuts for California farmers

In a nationally televised interview Sunday, California Gov. Jerry Brown defended his decision to largely target urban areas rather than agricultural users with his historic order to curb water use.

During an appearance on the ABC news program “This Week,” Brown told host Martha Raddatz that farmers had already fallowed “hundreds of thousands of acres of land” and pulled up vines and trees.

“Farmworkers who are at [the] very low end of the economic scale here are out of work,” Brown said. “There are people in agriculture areas that are really suffering.”

The governor also argued that shutting off water allocations was unnecessary and would displace “hundreds of thousands of people.”

“If you don’t want to produce any food and import it from some other place, of course you could do that,” Brown said.

Brown announced the first mandatory drought restrictions in California history on Wednesday, ordering cities and towns across the state to slash their water use by 25%.

Most of the plan focused on urban uses such as lawns, golf courses and parks. Critics of the plan argue it is ineffective to largely ignore agriculture – the biggest water user in the state.

Jonas Minton, water policy advisor for the Planning and Conservation League, called the government response “behind the curve” in an interview with The Times. Minton said California should restrict groundwater pumping and plantings of thirsty new crops.

Other water experts, however, counter that farms have already been hit by severe cutbacks due to the drought.

Brown defended the need to keep water flowing to farmers, but he took aim at “senior water rights” that allow some farms to buy water at a much lower cost than others.

“Some people have a right to more water than others. That's historic. That's built into the legal framework of California," he said. "If things continue at this level, that's probably going to be examined, but as it is, we do live with a somewhat archaic water law situation.”

Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.

Twitter: @latimesemily

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