Farmers operating from in the Central Valley down to Ventura County say that new environmental regulations are barring them from irrigating their dry land and are making them an even more “endangered species” than the Mojave ground squirrel, Chinook salmon or the tiny Delta smelt. The farmers are getting increasingly angry at state and federal agencies whom they claim are putting wildlife far ahead of jobs, families and food.

Environmentalists won’t let them pump water from rivers on their arid lands and now many farmers must confront both regulators and environmental activists who threaten to go to court to enforce new laws against them. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have placed heavy regulations on the water that pours down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, filling lakes, rivers and streams on its way to the Pacific Ocean. There was once enough water to keep farmland fertile and fish and little critters happy. The Endangered Species Act (ESA), however, has blocked the diversion of water into many agricultural areas and the result is dry and unproductive ranches, orchards, groves and farms.

Farm advocates say that barring pumping of river water onto farmland means billions of gallons of water are being withheld to protect species such as the Delta smelt of which a UC Davis study conducted in April found only one living in its natural environment of upper Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary.

“These are communities who rely almost solely upon agricultural production or agri-business activities,” said Gayle Holman, spokeswoman for Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water supplier. “If we continue down this path, we will most likely see our food production turn to foreign soil. We could lose the economic engine that agriculture brings to our nation.”

The ESA was passed in 1973 and since then more than 1,300 plants and animals have earned a “threatened” or “endangered” classification. With government and private environmentalists enforcing their protection through regulations and/or court action, landowners and farmers contend their jobs and livelihoods are the real casualties.

The casual diner may be the next “casualty” in regard to the drought. Restaurants in the town of Fort Bragg, a coastal city along State Route 1 in Mendocino County, are operating under a new requirement that they replace their fine china and fancy silver cutlery with disposable dinnerware and flatware—while still charging the same amount for food and beverages. The city declared a stage three water emergency last month after measuring high salinity levels at the municipal water treatment plant. Basically, ocean water has begun to leak into municipal pipes.

The emergency protocols forbid restaurants and bars from washing dishes and has also forced them to cut down on laundering napkins, tablecloths and require that water only be served to customers who request it. Residents cannot use city water to wash their lawns, cars or any paved surfaces.

“You might be able to cut filet mignon with a plastic knife, but you are not going to cut a New York [steak],” said Jim Hurst, co-owner of Silvers at Wharf and Point Noyo Restaurant and Bar. “The expense is going to be horrendous, and it’s going to [have] a major impact. It seems to me there are other ways to save water.”