By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- A federal agency is looking for ways to augment water supplies south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where farmers have been grappling with a devastating lack of water.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it is taking advantage of water banking and transfer opportunities to add to users' supplies after further cutting allocations in the San Joaquin Valley last month.
The bureau has been working with the California Department of Water Resources on measures to improve water availability, such as additional groundwater pumping and a pact to receive about 24,000 acre-feet from the Yuba River.
Officials said measures they have taken so far prevented them from having to cut allocations further than they did last month, when they decreased service contractors' planned deliveries from 25 percent to 20 percent of normal supplies south of the Delta.
"We're looking at a bunch of opportunities we have" to provide more water, said Pete Lucero, a bureau spokesman here. "A number of these are already being done, and that's how we've gotten to the allocation in the Central Valley that we've gotten to. We're looking at some additional actions that could help us perhaps provide additional water later on."
Since 2001, Reclamation has approved 20 requests from Central Valley Project contractors to bank water for use in dry years. So far this year, the bureau has approved the return of 20,000 acre-feet of banked water for south-of-Delta users this year, according to an agency news release.
The bureau also approves transfers among contractors and contracts for non-CVP water transfers to enable contractors to augment their federal allocations.
Potential transfers include north-to-south transfers of Yuba River water estimated at 50,000 acre-feet; east-to-west transfers of 37,000 acre-feet; and transfers from a San Joaquin River long-term transfer program amounting to about 62,000 acre-feet, the release stated.
In addition, Reclamation has approved a south-of-Delta water rights transfer of 12,000 acre-feet and San Joaquin Valley in-basin transfers of 5,620, the release explained.
The efforts come as dry conditions and pumping restrictions to protect Delta smelt and salmon prompted the state and federal water agencies to cut south-of-Delta supplies. State Water Project allocations were cut from 40 percent to 35 percent of requested amounts.
Conditions are getting drier. The snowpack water content statewide was only 32 percent of normal as of April 22, a drop of 20 percentage points in about three weeks, according to the DWR's California Data Exchange Center.
Reservoirs statewide are at about 95 percent of their average storage for this time of year, according to the DWR. Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the Central Valley Project, is still at 85 percent of capacity.
Chances of adding to that supply with more rainfall are growing dim. The federal Climate Prediction Center envisions below-average chances of precipitation throughout California at least for the next couple of weeks.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: http://www.usbr.gov/
California Department of Water Resources: http://www.water.ca.gov/