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No federal water for most California irrigators

Tim Hearden
California farmers will get no federal water from the government's initial allocations this year.

Capital Press

RED BLUFF, Calif. — With California mired in a crippling drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it expects to have no water available for farms without senior water rights either north or south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta this year.

The announcement Feb. 21 followed a state snowpack survey that found the snow-water content in the Sierra Nevada range at 29 percent of average for this time of year. Other factors included critically dry hydrologic conditions, water quality requirements, relative priority of water rights and protection of endangered species, bureau officials explained.

As it stands, senior water rights holders along the Sacramento River will get 40 percent of their contract supply from the Central Valley Project, while municipal and industrial water users will get half their requested allocations and wildlife refuges will get 40 percent, the BOR stated in a news release.

Water service contractors on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley whose supply is delivered from New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River will get 55 percent of their normal amount, according to the bureau.

“This low allocation is yet another indicator of the impacts the severe drought is having on California communities, agriculture, businesses, power and the environment,” Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor said in a statement.

“We will monitor the hydrology as the water year progresses and continue to look for opportunities to exercise operational flexibility in future allocations,” he said.

For most farmers, the announcement was no surprise. Many water districts have been warning their customers there would likely be no agricultural allotment this year, as historically dry conditions have prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a statewide emergency.

In the northern Sacramento Valley, nearly 90 percent of growers of tree nuts and plums for prunes have converted to drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers, said Allan Fulton, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor here who specializes in irrigation.

Most of the farmers will rely on groundwater to get through the season, he said.

“The main thing that will happen is just improving their wells and making sure they’re operable,” Fulton said. “They’re trying to manage through the drought with hopes of a wet year next year.”

South of the Delta, however, the zero-water allocation will greatly affect Fresno County’s $6.58 billion agriculture industry, the local Farm Bureau stated.

The allocation “will force farmers to idle a large amount of acreage which would have generated jobs, value added food products that stimulate significant economic activity for the county and region,” CEO and executive director Ryan Jacobsen said in a statement.

Jacobson said the dry conditions have been made worse by a “regulatory drought,” in which 815,000 acre-feet of water were sent to the ocean last year by federal fishery officials to preserve imperiled fish.

California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger complains the allocation is the result of a lack of planning for additional storage over the last 20 years by state and federal agencies.

“We are living the future that we have predicted for at least the last two decades,” Wenger said in a statement. “Without the creation of additional water storage, California is unprepared for extended drought. Because of the increased demands from population growth and an inflexible commitment to the protection of endangered species and habitat, our water system has been drained of its flexibility to provide water in times of drought.”

The bureau’s announcement comes after the state Department of Water Resources said in late January that agricultural customers of the State Water Project will get no deliveries in 2014 if dry conditions persist. Sacramento Valley agricultural districts with long-standing water rights may only get 50 percent of their requested state water.

It was the first time in the project’s 54-year history that no water was initially set aside for ag, according to the DWR. The last time the federal government announced an initial allocation of zero everywhere was in 2009, but rain and snow later in the season pushed the final allocation to 40 percent north of the Delta and 10 percent in the south.

Online

Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region: https://www.usbr.gov/mp/

California Department of Water Resources: http://www.water.ca.gov



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