Many Central Valley farmers face severe water shortages despite easing drought

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 9:56 PM

The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, in an eagerly anticipated announcement, outlined the initial two thousand sixteen water allocations from the Central Valley Project, the federal government’s massive network of reservoirs, pumps and canals.

Many Central Valley farmers face severe water shortages despite easing drought

In another sign that California’s drought has eased but the state’s water system is , federal regulators announced Friday that Sacramento Valley farmers would obtain full water deliveries for the upcoming growing season, but many San Joaquin Valley growers would face another year of severe shortages.

The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, in an eagerly anticipated announcement, outlined the initial two thousand sixteen water allocations from the Central Valley Project, the federal government’s massive network of reservoirs, pumps and canals.

The results after a relatively moist winter and early spring: Rice growers and others N of the Delta can expect one hundred % of their contracted water deliveries. That represents a significant improvement over latest year, when even those farmers with some of the state’s most senior water rights lost more than twenty-five % of the water they'd get in a non-drought year.

The picture is distant less rosy below the federal pumping Sta close Tracy that supplies farmers S of the Delta. The sprawling agricultural districts on the W side of the San Joaquin Valley were told they’re getting only five % of their contract supply.

“We are basically, in our view, still in the center of a drought,” said Pablo Arroyave, deputy regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation, in a conference call with reporters.

While a five % supply is better than the zero allocation they received in each of the past two years, those farmers will again have to scramble to purchase water from growers with stronger water rights – assuming the executive who monitor endangered fish in the Delta even authorize for the additional water to be pumped south. The Ltd water shipments will keep continued pressure on the valley’s , which in many areas have been pumped to record low levels in the drought.

The enormous disparities in water allocations reflect California’s hodgepodge water rights system, which generally favors farmers N of the Delta. They also reflect the uneven performance of El Niño, which delivered a lot of rain and snow in the Sacramento Valley and northern Sierra but relatively small S of the Delta. On top of that, concerns over critically endangered fish have prompted federal and state executive to even though Delta flows surged dramatically after March storms. The pumping restrictions drew complaints from south-of-Delta advocates who argue that stormwater flowing out to sea is being “wasted.”

Arroyave said that, in total, the federally operated reservoirs hold eighty-six % of their average water for this time of year, but the south-of-Delta facilities are comparatively empty. New Melones Reservoir, which dams the Stanislaus River and is the state’s fourth-largest reservoir, is just twenty-six % full – a figure so low that the Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District and Stockton E Water District will get number water from the CVP this year.

Lester Snow, former secretary of the CA Natural Resources Agency, urged caution about releasing too much stored water, saying the S state remains in “extreme, exceptional” drought.

“Those reservoirs could be drained in a heartbeat,” Snow said. “It’s love we’re living paycheck to paycheck, meaning from rainy season to rainy season.”

By contrast, the state’s farming lobby lamented the five % allocation to agricultural districts on the W side of the San Joaquin Valley. More than 500.000 acres of farmland were fallowed latest year because of water shortages, particularly S of the Delta.

“It’s ridiculous but unfortunately entirely predictable,” said Johnny Amaral, deputy common manager of Westlands Water District, which delivers CVP water to a vast area on the W side of the valley. “Life in the Central Valley can’t continue to work this way.”

The CA Farm Bureau Federation’s president, Paul Wenger, added: “We’ll never know how much water might've been available this summer if we'd captured more of the water that flowed to sea at the altitude of the El Niño storm surges.”

Federal and state executive have throttled back their water pumping from the Delta in recent weeks out of concern it could damage Delta smelt and other endangered fish species whose numbers have plummeted to unprecedented levels in the drought. Congressional Republicans and U. S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, have urged the White House to pump more.

Reclamation executive said Friday that if federal fishery agencies give the OK, pumping could be increased to Westlands and others beyond five % later in the season.

Friday’s announcement didn’t bring totally bleak news for San Joaquin Valley farmers. The “exchange” contractors on the E side of the San Joaquin Valley were told they can expect one hundred % deliveries this year. Those farmers have special historical water rights.

Plus, in an earlier announcement, the , which also delivers Sacramento Valley water through the Delta to farmers and the cities of Southern California, projected a forty-five % allocation this year, more than twice as much as last year.

Meanwhile, urban water districts in Northern CA continue to thrust for relaxation of statewide water-conservation mandates as the region’s reservoirs fill up. The San Juan Water District in Granite Bay, in a direct challenge to the state, recently said it'll switch to voluntary conservation this year.

On Friday, the city of Roseville said it'll authorize residents to water their lawns twice a week beginning Monday instead of once. “The move is about a mo earlier than anticipated, acknowledging improved local watershed conditions and a healthier snowpack,” the city announced. The city urged residents, however, to continue to utilize water efficiently.

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