A U.S. district judge has denied the Friant Water Authority’s (FWA) request for a temporary restraining order in the fight to stop Millerton Lake water from being diverted to growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Last week, FWA asked for the temporary restraining order to protect a critical source of water for farmers in the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Typically, Millerton water is conveyed down the Friant-Kern Canal to users, including cities and growers, between Chowchilla and Bakersfield. This year, however, the water was held back and the Bureau of Reclamation used it to meet its contractual obligations to senior water rights holders, commonly called “exchange contractors.”
“The Friant Water Authority is disappointed by the federal court’s denial of FWA’s request for a temporary restraining order,” said FWA General Manager Ron Jacobsma in a prepared statement after the judge’s ruling.
Exchange contractors hold some of the oldest water rights in California and their contract with the federal government stipulates that they receive at least 75 percent of their annual allotment of surface water.
The USBR shocked the water community in early May when it took Friant water to provide to the exchange contractors, rather than rely on other sources of Central Valley Project water to meet its legal obligations.
“That action is effectively taking all the Millerton Lake water supply that would otherwise have been available to keep tens of thousands of acres of permanent plantings - primarily citrus - alive,” Jacobsma said.
The decision is not closed, however. According to Jacobsma, the FWA still has an opportunity to prove its case against the USBR in court.
One of Friant’s claims was the significant loss to growers with permanent plantings along the San Joaquin Valley’s East Side. U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill’s decision said the economic claim should be heard in the Federal Court of Claims.
No water for citrus
Thousands of acres of citrus groves from Fresno to Kern counties rely solely on surface water from the Friant-Kern Canal system. An earlier allocation of zero percent surface water from the Friant system still stands, and with it the likelihood that some groves will die this year.
Some growers are pushing out citrus groves rather than wait for the trees to die.
Second, the court indicated that it is not convinced that the water supply owed to the senior water rights holders on the San Joaquin River have priority over the refuge water supplies mandated by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.
Finally, the court noted that the Department of Water Resources was an indispensable party to claims related to the coordinated operating agreement, but the state could not be compelled to participate in the federal court proceedings and thus the federal court could not rule on this claim.
The Friant Water Authority is a public joint-powers agency representing 21 water agencieswhich delivers Central Valley Project water from the San Joaquin River to more than one million acres along the southern San Joaquin Valley’s east side.
The FWA operates and maintains the Friant-Kern Canal for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.