By Leigh Martinez

SAN JOAQUIN DELTA (CBS13) — Senior water rights holders have proposed taking a 25 percent cut, whether by using less water, or by letting that percentage of land remain unplanted.

The State Water Resources Control Board will ultimately make its decision by Friday.

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Delta farmers say there were times this year the San Joaquin River got so low, they could see the bottom of it. They say they aren’t surprised senior water rights holders are now being asked to conserve.

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Farmer Paul Marchini is looking forward to his wheat drying out so he can harvest. He only irrigates twice a year. He says the he and his neighbors haven’t had a problem in the four-year drought.

“We’re in the Delta,” he said. “So, we’ve never had a situation where we’ve had a lack of water.”

Delta farmers have senior water rights, priority access to water, because their land sits in the water.

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But the winds of change have blown through the Delta. The state is now requiring them to report monthly water usage. To avoid deep cuts later, the farmers are volunteering to take a 25 percent water cut.

“The alternative is the state comes in here and says ‘Sorry, there won’t be any water. You can’t divert it all.’ So, they have the big stick is what it amounts to,” he said.

The farmers aren’t particularly heartbroken losing the water. One pulled out his walnut grove earlier this year. The fear wasn’t the lack of water, but the quality.

“We’re dealing with a higher salt level,” Marchini said. “Without the freshwater coming from the mountains, we don’t have a way to dilute the salt that comes in from the ocean.”

Farmers would rather have nothing than put saltwater on the ground and potentially ruining the soil for future crops.

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The board declined to comment on the proposal, saying the executive director will make a decision on whether or not to accept the 25 percent water cut on Friday.