Water project in California makes zero allocation official

02/21/2014 01:58:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

click image to zoomPalmer Drought Severity IndexCourtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationThe Feb. 15 Palmer Drought Severity Index shows much of California is under the most severe drought conditions.The Bureau of Reclamation made it official today. The Central Valley Project, which it operates, expects to deliver no irrigation water this year to much of California, according to a news release

Citing a statewide snowpack of only 29 percent of average, bureau officials told agricultural water service contractors both north and south of the delta that it planned to make no water deliveries. 

At the same time, wildlife refuges south of the delta will receive 40 percent of a contract supply of 422,000 acre-feet, while municipal and industrial service contractors will receive 50 percent of historic use.

An acre-foot, about 325,800 gallons, can meet the typical annual water needs of a family of four.

A few water suppliers, known as settlement contractors or exchange contractors, have water rights that predate the federal water project and were told to expect only 40 percent of contract supply—the most severe cutback in history.

The allocations could change should the state receive substantial precipitation during the next several weeks.

The bureau began the water year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2013-Sept. 30, with 5.1 million acre-feet of carryover storage in six key reservoirs that are part of the Central Valley Project—California's largest water project.

That is 43 percent of capacity and 75 percent of the 15-year average for Oct. 1. 

Since then, the state has received little precipitation, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a drought state of emergency Jan. 17.

Part of the challenge for water operators comes from mandated protections for endangered fish that live in the delta.

During typically wet winters, delta pumps historically have pulled water from Northern California rivers across the water body for delivery into San Luis Reservoir, which sits just south of the delta.

The water is then stored in San Luis until growers and cities south of the delta need it during the dry, hot summers.

Since the delta smelt and a handful of other fish have been listed under the Endangered Species Act, the pumps could only operate if the fish weren't present or if delta flows were strong enough to keep the fish from being sucked up by the massive pumps.

The restrictions have curtailed delta pumping and reduced the amount of water that's channeled into San Luis Reservoir.

In addition, the 1992 CVP Improvement Act reallocated 800,000 acre-feet of water from agriculture to increase flows in delta river tributaries to aid fish.

In light of the drought declaration, bureau officials have said they would work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to offer more pumping flexibility while still protecting the fish.

For years, agricultural groups have called for more water storage to prepare the state for just such dry spells.

“As the saying goes, you reap what you sow, and our state and federal governments have failed miserably at providing the resources and infrastructure to adapt to changing climatic conditions,” California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said in a release.

“Make no mistake, our current water crisis is not caused by two years of below normal rainfall, followed by the record dry year we’re having right now. This crisis is the direct result of 20-plus years of inaction by politicians and policy-makers, who have failed to take the steps required to shield California from drought."

He said he hoped the current drought crisis will open lawmakers' eyes to the need for additional storage and reliable water conveyance systems and that they'd start working on them now.



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