Feds still considering initial CVP water allocation for farms, cities

Tim Hearden/Capital Press Cattle lounge in the wet grass on a rainy morning Feb. 17 at the California State University-Chico farm. The recent rains could have an impact on initial Central Valley Project water allocations, which were still a couple of weeks from being determined as of Feb. 18.

SACRAMENTO — The return of rain and snow to California “could be helpful” to prospects for bringing federal water to farms this year, but officials could still be a couple of weeks from making that determination, a spokesman says.

The Central Valley Project typically makes its initial allocations to cities, farms and other entities in late February, but hydrologists and other officials aren’t ready to predict how much water they’ll be able to deliver this spring and summer, spokesman Louis Moore said.

“They’re still formulating all the data,” said Moore, deputy public affairs officer in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region office in Sacramento.

Moore and others say it could be one to two weeks before the formulations are complete, at which point they’ll determine whether many Central Valley farms will get federal water for the first time in three years.

Last year, the Bureau of Reclamation made its determination on Feb. 27, announcing no water would be set aside for agricultural land without senior water rights either north or south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. In 2014, the initial allocation came Feb. 21.

In 2013, the bureau initially set south-of-Delta agricultural water service contractors’ allocations at 25 percent of requested supplies, but reduced them to 20 percent as the April 1 snowpack that year was only half of normal.

Anticipated reservoir levels are key to determining how much water the State Water Project and Central Valley Project ultimately deliver to contractors, state and federal officials have explained.

As California’s snow water content statewide was at 96 percent of normal for the date as of Feb. 19, Shasta Lake — the centerpiece of the CVP — was at 57 percent of capacity and 81 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Anticipating the timing of storms and the amount of remaining snowpack this spring is critical to determining whether there’ll be enough water in reservoirs to meet needs. If storms fill reservoirs too quickly, water has to be let out to leave room for runoff from the snowpack, but if that runoff never materializes, reservoirs could be left with too little water to sustain users’ needs through the summer, officials have said.

In much of California, impressive winter rain and snow gave way to about two weeks of dry and warm weather, but a wet pattern returned on Feb. 17, dumping nearly an inch of rain on Sacramento and about 2 feet of snow in the Sierra over a two-day period.

The federal Climate Prediction Center envisions drier and warmer-than-normal conditions through much of California over the next two weeks except for the North Coast, which could be wet. The agency still expects better-than-usual chances of rainfall in much of the state over the next three months.

The initial CVP allocation is being crafted as the State Water Project recently boosted its allocation from 10 percent to 15 percent of requested deliveries. DWR director Mark Cowin noted that the allocation is still low despite all the rain and snow because the drought isn’t over.

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