HANFORD — While all other Central Valley Project contractors’ allocations were previously increased to 100% of their contract totals in recent months, the Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday that agricultural districts South-of-Delta will receive only 65% percent of their historic water allocation.
South-of-the-delta cities like Avenal that get water from the Central Valley Project were increased to 90 percent of their contract supply, up from an 80 percent allocation announced in March.
Bureau officials said this update reflects ongoing water supply improvements due to continued precipitation in March and early April.
“This has been a great year for California’s water supply,” said Mid-Pacific Regional Director Ernest Conant. “Our goal is to maximize the supply available to our contractors in the short term, while continuing to improve the reliability of CVP water supplies in the long run. This is the type of year when additional storage and conveyance capacity would benefit the CVP.”
This update is an increase from the previous 55% allocation the bureau announced in March for agricultural districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, like Westlands Water District.
Westlands Water District is the largest agricultural water district in the U.S., made up of more than 1,000 square miles of farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties. The roughly 40,000 acres in Kings County are used to grow permanent crops like almonds and pistachios.
In light of current hydrologic and reservoir conditions, district officials said this minor increase in water allocation is “astonishing.”
“This announcement begs the question, what has to happen before south-of-Delta farmers served by the Central Valley Project can get a full supply?,” said Thomas Birmingham, general manager of Westlands Water District.
Since Oct. 1, 2018, the beginning of the current water year, California has experienced abundant precipitation — so much so that the 2018-19 water year is now classified as wet.
As of April 8, snow water content in the northern and central Sierra Nevada was 160% and 163% of the long-term average, respectively.
Additionally, storage in every CVP reservoir used to supply south-of-Delta CVP agricultural water service contractors was more than 100% of average for that date and remain in flood control operation.
Birmingham said reduced allocations in this type of water year needlessly increases the amount of overdrafted groundwater basins and makes it nearly impossible for farmers to effectively plan their operations.
Westlands officials said this allocation demonstrates the consequences of “ineffective and unchecked” biological regulations issued under the Endangered Species Act.
“Because of restrictions imposed on operations of the CVP under the guise of protecting fish, the CVP cannot be operated to satisfy on of the primary purposes for which it was built, supplying water to farmers,” said a news release from Westlands.
Bureau officials said they have had ongoing challenges in providing higher allocations for South-of-Delta water service contractors in recent decades.
They said even in above average water years, threatened and endangered species’ requirements, storage limitations and lost conveyance capacity from land subsidence pose challenges on Reclamation’s ability to export water South-of-Delta.
“Notwithstanding the restrictions imposed by the biological opinions, Westlands firmly believes that there is sufficient water to allocate to south-of-Delta agricultural water services contractors 100%,” Birmingham said. “[The] announcement by Reclamation is disappointing for every south-of Delta farmer served by the CVP, and we hope Reclamation will increase the allocation quickly to enable farmers to quit pumping groundwater.”
Reclamation officials said they are currently engaged in several processes to improve the agency’s ability to meet the water supply needs of the CVP in an environmentally and economically sound manner, including efforts directed by the October 2018 Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West.
President Trump’s order calls for the development of new biological opinions for the long-term coordinated operations of the CVP and State Water Project.