San Joaquin River releases from Friant Reservoir Todd Fitchette
Friant Dam operators will need to release over 350,000 acre feet of water by June 15 to avert flood management concerns -- this, after the Bureau of Reclamation said Friant water users will receive 100 percent of their requested surface supplies this season.

Feds promise 100 percent surface water allocation to California farmers

California's historic rain and snow leads Bureau of Reclamation to make first 100-percent water allocation in over a decade.

What could California farmers, particularly those south of the Delta, do with a full allocation of surface water?

Preliminary indications suggest they may get the opportunity to find out, though the federal agency that provides that water says it could be a few more weeks before they can make that decision.

Initial water supply allocations from the Bureau of Reclamation can be like a surprise Christmas present, though over the past several years that allotment has, at best, been akin to a white elephant gift – if anything at all.

Pablo Arroyave, Reclamation’s acting Mid-Pacific regional director, admitted that at no other time in recorded history has the Central Valley seen this much precipitation. Because of that, many water users for the first time in over a decade will see a full complement – 100 percent of their requested allocations – delivered to them this year.

This means that not only will senior water rights holders in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys see a 100 percent allocation from the Central Valley Project (CVP), so too will Friant Division and Eastside Division farmers.

Growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley will need to wait a few weeks before they know what they can plan to receive as Reclamation continues to refine water supply allocations for south-of-Delta users. This news comes in spite of conditions at San Luis Reservoir, which are significantly better today than this time last year, when the reservoir was nearly dry.

The federal portion of San Luis Reservoir is expected to fill within the first week of March and Bureau of Reclamation officials are waiting for the March 1 snow survey results before making the final call on how much surface water farmers can expect to receive on the Westside. In a media-only conference call Reclamation officials suggested that the Westside allocation could be “much greater than 5 percent” – the figure that farmers were allotted last year but did not receive until January of this year.

The federal portion of San Luis Reservoir is about half of its total storage, or about one million acre feet of water. The other half belongs to the State of California and is controlled by the Department of Water Resources. The federal supply will be available for delivery to CVP water users this spring and summer, according to Reclamation.

One of those Westside contractors is Westlands Water District, which last year didn’t receive its 5 percent allocation until January and in the previous two years saw zero percent allocations from the CVP.

Johnny Amaral, deputy general manager for external affairs with Westlands Water District, said only time will tell if the Westside receives the same good news as the rest of the CVP users received at the end of February.

“With the improvement in hydrology and snowpack in 2017, common sense would suggest that everyone’s water allocation will be a vast improvement over the last few years,” Amaral said in a prepared statement.

The CVP began the 2017 water year in Oct., 2016, with 4.9 million acre feet of carryover storage in six key reservoirs. This was two million acre feet more than what was there the previous year.

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