Bureau of Reclamation Announces Water Allocations for Some Farms, Remains Uncertain About Others
This week the Bureau of Reclamation announced that most customers would receive all of their contracted water supplies from the Central Valley Project (“CVP”). However, because of a dry winter in California, approximately 10 percent of customers have yet to even receive a supply estimate and large areas of farmland south and east of the delta are projected to receive only 20 percent of their deliveries.
The problem this year is lack of expected snowmelt, rather than water scarcity, as most major reservoirs are at or above average capacity. While precipitation has been 60 percent of average, snowpack is at 20 percent of average. Without snowmelt, there is a risk of high water temperatures in the Sacramento River, which would drastically affect endangered chinook salmon.
The Bureau of Reclamation has said it wants to wait until late spring to assess water temperatures and weather patterns before it finalizes allocations for farmers north of the delta. The Reclamation’s head of Central Valley operations said that all of the uncertainty regarding river temperatures is hindering the Reclamation’s ability to make final decisions. However, Agricultural representatives are criticizing this decision. The California Farm Water Coalition, which represents many of the affected water districts, argues that the idea of more water supply cuts bringing more fish is unrealistic and that it is a waste of water and taxpayer dollars, as well as furthers hardship on the San Joaquin Valley. Reclamation in turn states they are fully complying with the 2016’s Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which instructs the agency to maximize deliveries from the CVP over endangered fish protections. The California Farm Water Coalition says that compliance last year produced about 200,000 extra acre-feet of water.
Agency officials are also using the uncertain CVP allocations to point to the need for more reservoirs to store excess waters from wet years. Additionally, republican legislators have started putting pressure on Governor Brown’s administration to begin doling out $7.5 billion in bond funding for water storage projects, which was authorized by Proposition 1 in 2014. The legislators favor two projects – Sites Reservoir (off of the Sacramento River) and Temperance Flat (on the San Joaquin). On Thursday, Assembly Republic Leader Brian Dahle delivered 4,000 petitions to the California Water Commission demanding immediate funding of these two projects.