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CVP contractors disappointed but remain hopeful

Despite 15 percent initial allocation, new operations plan still seen as an improvement

Farm Press Staff

February 26, 2020

3 Min Read
Delta-Mendota Canal
The Delta-Mendota Canal in the San Joaquin Valley.Tim Hearden

The Central Valley Project water allocations announced Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation were disappointing to contracting water agencies, but they still see the project's new operations plan as an improvement.

Dry weather starting in late January prompted the allocations, including 15 percent of normal supplies for agricultural customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta who don't have senior water rights.

The allocations came less than a week after President Donald Trump visited Bakersfield to formally appprove new guidelines for water deliveries in the San Joaquin Valley. But water agencies understand the weather has gotten in the way.

The California Department of Water Resources reported that as of Monday, statewide average snow water content in the Sierras was just 41 percent of the April 1 average. Current Northern Sierra precipitation is about 51 percent of the seasonal average.

The Family Farm Alliance, which advocates for water for farms, says in a news release that its members in the Central Valley wish the supply allocation were higher, but many believe Reclamation would have provided a higher allocation if existing conditions would have allowed it.

'Hydrology is a main driver'

“Dry hydrology is a main driver in the low initial allocations for agricultural and urban water users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” said Federico Barajas, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which has 25 member public agencies that contract with Reclamation for CVP water. “The Authority wishes that the initial allocation were higher, but understands that existing conditions have prohibited Reclamation from making a higher initial allocation.”

Related:Looming drought ties Reclamation's hands, officials say

The Friant Water Authority, which supplies San Joaquin River water stored at Millerton Lake to 15,000 farms, agrees.

“Today’s allocation for the Central Valley Project by the Bureau of Reclamation of only 15 percent of the South-of-Delta agricultural contract amount and 7 percent of the total Friant Division contract amount is reflective of one of the driest Februarys seen in the Central Valley,” the agency said in a statement.

“Although the announcement is disappointing, we have no doubt that given this year’s hydrology, without the operational flexibility provided in the new biological opinions, Reclamation would not have been able to provide contractors an allocation at all this early in the year.”

Water agencies are comparing this water year to 2009, when south-of-Delta CVP agricultural water service contractors received a 10 percent allocation but it didn't come until April.

“Comparatively speaking, a 15 percent allocation in February is good news,” the Westlands Water District noted in a statement released Tuesday. “Without question, those new biological opinions restore operational flexibility to the CVP and SWP, while at the same time providing more protection for listed species.”

Family Farm Alliance members in the Central Valley are also hopeful that if the hydrology and snowpack improves, so will the allocation, the organization notes in its release.

Remaining hopeful

Nonetheless, with such a low initial allocation, many anticipate that growers throughout the south San Joaquin Valley will need to rely more on groundwater, to the extent that they can under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

“Pray for rain and snow,” the Friant Water Authority statement concluded.

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