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No water for ag despite recent Calif. storms

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

State and federal water agencies unveiled a comprehensive drought management plan for California on April 9 but didn't increase allocations for agriculture. They said new allocations could be made in the next couple of weeks, but added many demands exist for a water supply that is still historically scarce.

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — Despite more late-season storms in California, state and federal water planners weren’t ready April 9 to start sending water to farms without senior water rights.

Agencies maintained zero-water allocations for State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project contractors as they unveiled a comprehensive drought management plan to guide them through the remainder of 2014.

Officials said new allocations could still come in the next couple of weeks as they examine improved March runoff and an April 1 snowpack survey that was conducted amid a rather prolific snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada range.

But they cautioned that many demands exist for a water supply that is still historically scarce, noting that such needs as senior rights holders, wildlife refuges and endangered species stand ahead of project contractors in line.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who’s enjoyed the recent storm events in California more than I have, but it’s clear that our dry and warm weather has returned and I expect the reality of the drought will again be more apparent to us moving forward,” state Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin said in a conference call with reporters.

“We must continue to plan for a very dry 2014 and potentially a dry 2015,” he said. “We need to continue to use every drop of water wisely and probably with more consideration than ever before.”

The multi-stage Drought Operations Plan introduced by Cowin and other officials aims to ensure adequate water supplies for drinking water, sanitation and firefighting; prevent saltwater from intruding into California’s water delivery system; provide enough water for fish migration and spawning; and use water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for storage, the agencies explained in a news release.

For now, settlement contractors along the Sacramento and Feather River will still get half their state allocation, while the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation maintains that senior rights holders along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers would get 40 percent of their federal contract totals.

However, senior rights holders would need to be increased to 75 percent before the federal government could start addressing the needs of other contractors, said David Murillo, regional director of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region office here.

The operations plan comes as recent storms prompted water agencies on March 31 to boost pumping from the Delta from 1,500 cubic feet per second to as much as 6,500 cfs, which they expected to maintain for at least a week. The agencies also turned up the spigot during wet periods in late February and early March.

Asked where all the water was going if some of it couldn’t be allocated to farms, Cowin said much of it is in the San Luis Reservoir, which was still at only 45 percent of capacity as of April 9, according to the DWR’s California Data Exchange Center.

Officials said the drought plan resulted from hydrological assessments and weeks of consultation among agencies and representatives from agriculture and environmental groups. They said plans and forecasts of water deliveries will be updated each month as new hydrologic data becomes available.

Online

California drought page: http://www.ca.gov/drought/

Drought Operations Plan FAQs: http://www.ca.gov/drought/2014OpPlan-FAQ.pdf



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