The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on April 11 boosted its previous water allocations for 2017 for all Central Valley Project water contractors South-of-Delta to a full 100 percent, marking the first full contract supply year since 2006.
The previous CVP allocation announced for 2017 was 65 percent for agricultural water contractors South-of-Delta, and 90 percent for municipal and industrial (M&I) contractors South-of-Delta.
“Reclamation is pleased to announce this increase to a 100 percent allocation for our South-of-Delta water contractors,” said the Bureau’s Acting Regional Director Pablo Arroyave.
In the same press statement, Arroyave noted that water conservation must continue since another drought could be around the corner.
The boost to the full 100 percent allocation reflects ample moisture found during the California Department of Water Resources’ March 30 snow survey. Onsite measurements found the statewide average snow water equivalent at 45.8 inches in the Sierra Nevada.
This amount was 164 percent of the historical average of 27.9 inches.
Reclamation encourages water users to choose surface water supplies over groundwater when possible through the balance of the 2017 water year.
Water groups respond
Responses to the revised allocation (100 percent) drew mixed reactions.
The Westlands Water District (WWD), which supplies farm water to the western portions of Fresno and Kings counties, praised the 100 percent allocation.
In a statement, WWD called the increase a “real blessing” for farmers with permanent crops.
“Those farmers will have sufficient, good quality surface water to irrigate their orchards and vineyards that suffer damage when irrigated with poorer quality groundwater,” the agency said.
“This allocation decision will enable all farmers to avoid pumping an over drafted groundwater basin.”
Growers in the District produce about 60 commercial food and fiber crops which generate about $3.5 billion in revenue annually.
Yet Westlands says Reclamation’s 100 percent allocation underscores a fundamental problem. Existing regulations keep the CVP from operating as originally designed. Since the last 100 percent allocation year (2006), the District noted the State of California has faced wet, average, and dry years.
“The CVP was designed to deliver full supplies in all types of water years, and the contracts between the United States and the public water agencies that supply farmers stipulate allocation announcements will be made in mid-February. This is intended to enable farmers to make timely planting decisions,” says Westlands.
In the last decade, the District says water allocations to Westlands have ranged from zero to 80 percent, including zero percent allocations in 2014 and 2015. The allocation was 5 percent last year, but the district says farmers were told the allocation could not be used during the irrigation season.
“For farmers who had to make planting decisions several months ago today's announcement of an increase in supply comes too late in the season to aid their operations,” WWD said.
Echoing this concern was the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority located at Los Banos, Calif.
“The increased allocation is appreciated however the timing of the announcement comes after many planting decisions have been made,” the Authority said.
“Many factors tie Reclamation's hands including a web of over 15 federal, state, and local agencies that have led to a broken system that fails to work well for anyone.”