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Cynthia Davis, who wrote to book “Where Water is King” in 1984, speaks to a gathering of the Willows Museum Society on Sunday.

It's been more than 20 years since Cynthia Davis wrote "Where Water is King," a 100-year history of modern irrigation in California and the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District.

The title was once the slogan for Colusa County and was once part of Glenn County's official seal.

It also represented what was once an abundance of a resource vital to the area's agricultural economy.

Although Will S. Green of Colusa never lived to see the first pumping of water from the Sacramento River in 1906 for farming operations, Green, surveyor, state Assemblyman and publisher of the Colusa Sun-Herald, was the first to claim 500,000 miner's inches under four inches of pressure — one of the earliest and largest water rights on the Sacramento River.

Green's vision led to GCID's organization in 1920, when a group of landowners reorganized and refinanced a failed irrigation district connected to a land development scheme — retaining claim to Green's historic water rights.

GCID, and the water it supplies to approximately 175,000 acres of farmland and private habitat for migrating waterfowl, was the subject at the annual meeting of the Willows Museum Society on Sunday.

Museum directors asked GCID officials to the meeting to address the growing water crisis in California.

Dixie LaGrande of Williams, who attended Sunday's meeting, said public discussions on water is important, especially now when greater demand is being placed on a now-limited resource.

LaGrande said most people outside the farming industry have a false perception agriculture uses or wastes the majority of the water while contributing very little to the overall economy.

"It's scary what people are thinking out there," she said.

Without water for farms, she said, people throughout the United State would be forced to rely on food from other countries where there are few or no regulations that guarantee food safety or quality

"This isn't just about farming," LaGrande said. "This is about food security."

Much has changed for GCID since 1984 when Davis' book first hit the shelves, including better fish screen protections for salmon, the result of lawsuits by environmental groups.

GCID has also taken advantage of modern technology to install a high-speed communications system to streamline operations, record data and improve the distribution and delivery of irrigated water through GCID's 65-mile network of canals.

"Today, after surviving many challenges, GCID is the largest district in the Sacramento Valley," said Davis, who spoke to a group of about 25 people.

Although some thing have changed for GCID over the years, some things haven't.

"In the 1950s, we were talking about water users and water rights," Davis said. "We're taking about those same things today."

Going into a fourth year of critical drought, water and water rights are among the state's most divisive political issues.

Lacking reliable rainfall, water is now very limited in the most populous state.

The Sacramento River remains the critical source of water for California, but the increasing need for the resource statewide has been placing increased demand on the river, Davis said.

From its first diversion until 1964, Davis said GCID relied on historic water rights and the adequate supply of water from the Shasta snowpack, which feeds the river.

In 1964, after nearly 20 years of negotiations with the United States — also the result of litigation — GCID, along with other Sacramento River water rights diverters, entered into 40-year settlement water contracts with the Bureau of Reclamation, deemed necessary at the time to allow for the construction and operation of the Central Valley Project.

Today, contracts matter little when there is little or no water.

Just two months into the new year, with rainfall still far below normal despite December's storms, Pat Kennedy, GCID water operations superintendent, anticipates another critically dry year.

Kennedy said he's optimist that if March if wet, GCID farmers will receive at least 75 percent of their water allocations again this year, based water rights contracts, but even that is not guaranteed.

"If there is no water, there is no water," he said. "It doesn't matter what your contract says."

Kennedy said GCID expects to know from the Bureau of Reclamation by March 15 just how much water GCID landowners will receive.

As more demand is placed on water, GCID will continue to focus its efforts on conservation, Kennedy said.

The district also sits at the table of the Sites Joint Points Authority, a proponent and facilitator to potentially acquire, design, construct, manage, govern and operate the Sites Reservoir, a facility that could vastly improve the state's water system, ecosystem and water quality conditions.

Many who attended Sunday's meetings said the ongoing water crisis represents not just a struggle for farmers, but potentially for consumers, who may have to pay more for fruits, vegetables and nuts.

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