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March storms in Calif. could boost CVP water deliveries

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been holding off on making allocations of Central Valley Project water to see the outcome of March storms, which are significantly improving California's water supply.
Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Published on March 14, 2016 3:44PM

Last changed on March 15, 2016 10:03AM

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Mustard is seen between the rows of vineyards flooded by water from the Russian River March 11,  in Forestville, Calif. Flood watches and warnings blanketed Northern California as the latest in a series of storms moved in, adding more moisture to an already wet March.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg Mustard is seen between the rows of vineyards flooded by water from the Russian River March 11, in Forestville, Calif. Flood watches and warnings blanketed Northern California as the latest in a series of storms moved in, adding more moisture to an already wet March.


SACRAMENTO — While they’re giving informal updates to water districts, federal water officials in California have put off announcing Central Valley Project allocations until they see what this month’s storms will bring.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Shane Hunt didn’t flinch when asked if the “March Miracle” of abundant rain and snow that many had hoped for is coming to fruition.

He responded by noting that the agency’s eight weather stations along the Sacramento River in Northern California had received their average precipitation for the month by about March 9.

“It’s changed so significantly from the first of the month,” Hunt said of the state’s water outlook. He noted that Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the federal Central Valley Project, had an inflow of 325,000 acre-feet just in the first 10 days of March.

“Those Shasta numbers are encouraging,” he said, adding that continued rain and snow “will help us build a cold water pool and protect the winter (salmon) run, which is vital for us to operate the system.”

In the San Joaquin Valley, growers are becoming more confident they’ll get at least some federal water for the first time in three years, as some estimates have put the amount of agricultural water south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at 15 percent.

“We’re trying to stay optimistic, hoping that it will mean a larger allocation is coming,” said Laura Brown, California Citrus Mutual’s director of government affairs. “We’ve seen them at least thus far giving us above a zero allocation, which is what we had. … I understand the bureau is being very cautious.”

The early March deluge throughout the state broke precipitation levels in some areas and pushed the statewide snow water content, which had been 80 percent of normal at the beginning of the month, to 88 percent of normal as of March 14, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Redding sopped up 8.73 inches of rainfall for the month as of March 14, well above its normal 2.27 inches for the period, while Fresno’s 2.93 inches for the month as of March 14 was well above its normal 0.94 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

A break from the storms was expected this week, although the federal Climate Prediction Center still sees a likelihood of wetter-than-average conditions throughout California over the next month.

The Central Valley Project typically makes its initial allocations to cities, farms and other entities in late February, but hydrologists and other officials have said the March weather could have a significant impact on how much water they’ll be able to deliver this spring and summer.

A formal announcement could be made in the last week of March. As many growers need to know how much water they’ll have so they can make planting decisions, Reclamation officials have given informal updates to water districts so they’ll have an idea of what to expect, Hunt said.

“We’ve been coordinating with our water users, so they’re OK so far,” he said. “Early in the year, they suggested that we wait a little bit. … The weather has changed dramatically and we saw that in the forecast coming at us and hoped that that would play out. We’re kind of seeing where that goes.”



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