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California To Ease Water Restrictions In Move To Help Farmers

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SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 18 (Reuters) - Drought-plagued California will ease some protection for fish in the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, officials said Tuesday, a move expected to make more water available for farming and ease political tensions in an election year.

The move marks a retreat from restrictions imposed earlier in the year which had widely been expected to be tightened further, rather than eased, and was welcomed in the agricultural community.

"California's agriculture is critical to the world's food supply," said assemblywomanKristin Olsen, who represents part of the San Joaquin Valley, who had lobbied hard against the restrictions. "An inability to produce that food would clearly be devastating to health and human safety not only in California but around the globe."

Citing recent rains, regulators said Tuesday there was enough water in the state's reservoirs now to partially ease restrictions.

"We were quite concerned at that time about the issue of public health and safety,"Tom Howard, executive director of the state Water Resources Control Board, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "This really had the markings of a historic drought."

The move comes after weeks of intensive lobbying from growers, lawmakers from agricultural regions and the state's two U.S. Senators, who said the restrictions, along with the possible curtailment of water rights for some agricultural and municipal customers, would harm the state's economy.

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