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Shasta Dam
Water storage at California reservoirs like Shasta Lake has improved with abundant winter rain and snow.

Recent storms provide more water for farms

Federal, state water projects unveil allocations amid big snowpack, full reservoirs.

California's abundant snowpack and full reservoirs will apparently equate to more water for farmers and ranchers this spring and summer.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state Department of Water Resources both issued new allocations for contractors on Feb. 20, with growers in some parts of the Central Valley expecting to see their full allotments.

Most farms relying on federal Central Valley Project water are initially promised 70 percent of their requested supplies if they're north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and farms south of the Delta are set to receive 35 percent.

However, east side water service contractors in the Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District and Stockton East Water District will receive 100 percent of their contract total, as will Friant Division contractors accessing their Class 1 water, according to a Reclamation news release.

“Reclamation’s initial allocations this year reflect the rain and snow we’ve had to date, balanced with the need to exercise reasonable caution should the remainder of the winter turn dry,” Mid-Pacific Region Director Ernest Conant says. “We recognize the importance of providing meaningful allocations early in the year for the planning needs of our contractors and must also ensure we can meet these commitments should conditions turn dry or other contingencies arise.”

Meanwhile, the recent storms have prompted the State Water Project to raise the allocation to its 29 contractors to 35 percent of requested supplies, up from the 15 percent announced earlier.

Snowpack and reservoirs

Both agencies cite the state's snowpack and relatively full reservoirs in making their allocations, adding that water deliveries could still change depending on conditions.

The DWR typically announces its initial allocation around December and raises it as conditions warrant. Allocations are reviewed monthly based on updated snowpack and runoff information and the number is typically finalized in May, officials explain in a news release.

“Recent storms boosted California’s snowpack and total precipitation well above average, which allows us to have a more abundant water supply allocation,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth says in the release. “Although we’ve got more water in the system now, we must always manage our precious resources with tomorrow’s climate uncertainties in mind.”

Statewide, the Sierra snowpack is 146 percent of average for Feb. 20, and most of the state’s major reservoirs are at or above their historical averages for this time of year, the agencies note.

Conant says the CVP is "closely monitoring" Shasta Lake, which represents the majority of the project's water storage with its capacity of about 4.5 million acre-feet. Though recent storms have brought storage in the reservoir back up to just above the historic average, runoff forecasts still predict that overall storage this year might be limited if the typical spring precipitation doesn't materialize. Currently, the lake is at 74 percent of capacity and 105 percent of average, according to the DWR.

“Though we’ve had a great start to 2019, our experience as the operator of this complex and important infrastructure dictates we act conservatively at this time of year,” Conart says in the BOR's release.

Not a 'critical' year

On Feb. 15, Reclamation told the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, San Joaquin Settlement Contractors, and Refuge Contractors that the anticipated inflow to Shasta Lake is currently greater than the amount that would cause this to be a “Shasta Critical” year as that term is defined in their contracts, according to the release.

Federal officials say changes in hydrology and opportunities to deliver additional water will influence future allocations. People can look for updates by clicking here.

Lake Oroville, the SWP’s largest reservoir, is currently at 53 percent of capacity and 78 percent of average for this time of year, as water levels have been kept lower than normal while crews finish work on the Oroville Dam's spillways.

San Luis Reservoir, the largest off-stream reservoir in the United States where water is stored for the SWP and CVP, is at 93 percent of capacity and 112 percent of average, according to the DWR.

The federal Climate Prediction Center sees a better-than-average chance of precipitation in most of California and virtually all of Arizona over the next month, including significant precipitation south of Stockton. Temperatures during that period are more likely to be lower than normal in areas north of Bakersfield, according to the center's forecasters.

The DWR’s California Data Exchange Center website shows current water conditions at the state’s largest reservoirs and weather stations and measures current rain and snow precipitation.

TAGS: Water Weather
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