SACRAMENTO — Growers on the San Joaquin Valley’s west side will get 65 percent of their requested Central Valley Project surface water supplies in 2017, federal officials announced March 22.
Agricultural water users north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta will get their full supplies, as will Northern California urban areas and customers of the Contra Costa Water District, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said.
Municipal and industrial customers south of the Delta will get 90 percent of requested deliveries. More water could be provided south of the Delta this year if conditions allow, officials said.
Bob Curtis, the Almond Board of California’s director of agricultural affairs, said the 65 percent allocation is “welcome” after the Westside received little or no federal surface water during the drought. But he hopes the allocation will be increased, he said.
“That’s a significant portion of our industry,” Curtis said of Westside almond orchards. “On the Westside, individuals have been playing catch-up.”
To make the most of water stored in the San Luis Reservoir, Reclamation will limit the amount of water carried over to the 2018 contract year to 150,000 acre-feet, or about 10 percent of this year’s allocation, a bureau news release explained.
The announcement follows the bureau’s decision in late February to give full allocations for many growers served by the Central Valley Project, including the settlement and exchange contractors on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, respectively, and the Friant division in the eastern San Joaquin Valley.
Westside growers weren’t expecting a full allocation, which Fresno County Farm Bureau chief executive officer Ryan Jacobsen called “unacceptable” considering the winter’s abundance of rain and snow.
As of March 21, California’s snowpack water content was 158 percent of normal statewide and the San Luis Reservoir west of Los Banos, Calif., was at 99 percent of capacity, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
“It really shows you how broken the system is and how frustrating it is for those folks who are not able to receive the water they’re contracted to receive,” Jacobsen said. “When you look at a year like this year, how can anything short of 100 percent be possible? But that’s realistically what we’re looking at.”
Hundreds of thousands of acres on the Westside have been fallowed in recent years as surface water supplies have steadily decreased because of protections for imperiled fish, growers’ advocates say. The Westside only received 5 percent last summer despite late-season storms that provided more water elsewhere.
Bureau officials were weighing several factors in determining the remaining allocations, including reservoir levels and hydrologic conditions. They were also waiting for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to complete its fisheries’ temperature management plan for Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the CVP.
The bureau typically announces its initial allocations in mid-February, although it waited until April 1 last year to take into account anticipated storms in March while giving informal reports to water districts.
The federal allocations come as the State Water Project has so far promised 60 percent of requested deliveries to its 29 contracting agencies. State officials said an increase is being discussed, but they couldn’t say when or by how much the allocation could be raised.
Last year the SWP made its final upgrade on April 21, to 60 percent of requested supplies.
Growers in some parts of California have been putting off planting decisions or relying on guess work as state and federal agencies took their time in determining their water allocations.
The delay “doesn’t make it any easier” for growers, Jacobsen said.
“Every day that passes is another day that decisions can’t be made as far as whether to plant a field or not,” Jacobsen said. “A lot of those decisions had to be made already, and farmers had to guess how much water they did or did not have.”
Pablo Arroyave, the bureau’s acting mid-Pacific regional director, said this water year was “unique” and that Reclamation will strive in future years to release initial allocations for all water users in February.