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Feds declare 'Shasta critical' year for California irrigation water deliveries

Senior water rights holders in the Central Valley Project told to not expect full allocation this season as projected inflow to Shasta Lake will be limited

Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor

April 15, 2020

2 Min Read
Even as Shasta Lake is about 30 feet below "full pool," the Federal Bureau of Reclamation has declared a "Shasta critical year" because projected inflow into the reservoir this year will be limited because of poor snowpack in the watersheds feeding the giant reservoir. This means even senior water rights holders will not receive full Central Valley Project allocations this year.Todd Fitchette

Though winter rains were able to push Shasta Lake to 82 percent of capacity by early April, federal water managers declared a "Shasta critical year," paving the way for reduced water deliveries to senior water rights holders, who generally receive full water allocations each year under state water law.

A Shasta critical year is declared when the forecasted inflow to Shasta Lake, the cornerstone reservoir in the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), is at or below 3.2 million acre-feet. Storage in the reservoir as of mid-April was just over 3.7 million acre-feet.

"Shasta is largely a rain-fed reservoir and this year's storms have largely missed that watershed," said David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association.

A "Shasta-critical" designation means Exchange and Settlement Contractors – these are the most senior of water rights users in the state – will receive 75 percent of their allocation. Water deliveries elsewhere in the state have been cut to 40 percent for Friant Division Class 1 users and 15 percent for south-of-Delta agricultural users.

Even the junior rights users on the Sacramento River will see their allocations cut to 50 percent.

In short, this means farmers that do plant crops will be forced to rely heavily upon groundwater to meet crop needs this season.

State Water Project

Due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, the California Department of Water Resources conducted its annual April 1 snow survey without the typical tow of cameras and reporters. There was little to see or report from the manual survey of snow at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe.

Less than four feet of snow depth with a water equivalent of 16.5 inches was recorded in the survey. This is 66 percent of the April average for this location, according to DWR.

Electronic snow survey measurements across California reveals similar numbers on average, or just over half the expected snowpack for this time of year.

According to DWR, California's snowpack provides about 30 percent of the state's annual water needs as it melts and fills reservoirs and aquifers across the state.

About the Author(s)

Todd Fitchette

Associate Editor, Western Farm Press

Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.

Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico. 

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