Shasta Lake falls to historic levels

As the kingpin of the Central Valley Project, Shasta Lake began the 2015-'16 water year Oct. 1 at about 35 percent of the reservoir's 4.55 million acre-foot capacity.

Central Valley Project falls to 24 percent of capacity

Federal water system should have over six million acre feet of water in storage this time of year CVP holds near 12 million acre feet of water in storage Growers will know in February if 2016 will be third consecutive year without irrigation water

October 1 marks the new water year in California, and for the Central Valley Project (CVP), the news almost couldn’t be worse as the state begins the new water year with a 3.2 million acre-foot deficit from its 15-year average.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the six key CVP reservoirs – Shasta, Trinity, Folsom, New Melones, Millerton, and the federal share of San Luis Reservoir – hold 24 percent of their total carrying capacity and just 47 percent of the 6.12 million acre feet the lakes should have in them at this time of the year.

Storage on Oct. 1 was 200,000 acre feet less than what the CVP began the 2014-15 water year with.

“WY 2015 was very difficult, and we are beginning WY 2016 with even less water in our reservoirs,” said Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo in a statement released by the USBR. “We are continuing to work closely and cooperatively with our partner agencies and stakeholders to make the best possible use of our limited water resources, especially as we are now entering what could be the fifth year of drought.

Federal water storage at the six key facilities ranges from a low of 8 percent at San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos to 37 percent at Millerton Reservoir near Fresno. Shasta Lake is at roughly 35 percent of its carrying capacity and New Melones is at 11 percent of full pool.

By comparison, the benchmark drought of 1976-’77 saw federal water storage fall to half of the recent figure and yet farmers south of the Delta still received some of their CVP deliveries, according to Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

Wade used the fact to point out that while the drought of 1976-’77 claimed more water storage from the CVP, the USBR still delivered a 25-percent supply of surface water to federal contractors south of the Delta in 1977.

By Oct. 1, 1977, Shasta Lake fell to its lowest level since it first filled in 1954, nine years after the dam was completed. On that date the lake held about 500,000 acre feet of water or about a million acre feet less than it does today.

Irrigation water

The CVP typically provides irrigation water to about three million acres of agricultural land in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys and along California’s central coast, but this year, as with last, federal contractors received no surface water from the federal government as water was held back for fish flows in the Sacramento River Delta and on several rivers.

Wade blames regulatory changes that took the focus off the original purpose of the CVP – delivering water to farms, homes and businesses – for the water crisis faced in California today.

“How can anyone justify the large amount of water held back in our reservoirs when 21,000 workers lost their jobs because of fallowed farmland,” Wade asked.

In January the USBR will announce a preliminary assessment of  2016 CVP water supply conditions and in February the agency will announce the initial CVP water supply to be made available under contracts. The water delivery contract year begins March 1.

Reclamation will continually monitor and evaluate hydrologic conditions and will adjust the initial water supply allocations, as warranted, to reflect updated snowpack and runoff. Current allocations and background information are available at

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