The state of California, flush with a record budget surplus, is looking at spending an estimated $1.5 billion dollars to buy back water rights from farmers in an effort to help the save an endangered species of fish.
Farmers in the state, which has been in drought conditions for many years, are allowed to take water from rivers and streams for their crops using a system involving "senior water rights". This Senate proposal would use taxpayer money to buy those "senior water rights" from farmers.
For years, the state and farmers have been at odds over the amount of water taken from California's rivers and streams for crops and the affect that has had on an endangered species of salmon.
The water rights buyback would be voluntary. Tom Birmingham is General Manager of the Westland Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the nation. He says he believes many farmers would be willing to sell. A number of farmers already try to sell their rights and farmer's children are not as interested in farming as their parents according to Birmingham.
There are opponents to the plan, like State Senator Brian Dahle, a candidate for Governor. He says the plan would force farmers into a corner and it would result in the farmer's being driven out of business.