Many of the farms and cities that rely on water from the federal government’s Central Valley Project will get their full allotment this year, including many in the Sacramento area, thanks to bountiful supplies of rain and snow this winter throughout California.
Others, however, have been put in a wait-and-see mode, a sign that the operators of California’s water-delivery system are still struggling to make sense of an avalanche of precipitation following five-plus years of drought.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that select groups of CVP contractors can expect 100 percent deliveries. They include municipalities along the American River, which take water from Folsom Lake, and two groups of agricultural water districts on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, including a swath of contractors in the so-called Friant division.
In a departure from usual practice, the bureau said it will delay announcing allocations to all other CVP contractors until mid- to late-March, when it can get a better read on the water situation. Those include most farm districts in the Sacramento Valley and much of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Those west side farmers have traditionally received the smallest allocations in recent years as the drought has taken its toll.
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The agency did say it expects there to be considerably more water available this year than last. “The 2017 water year has been an extreme year thus far, with precipitation throughout the Central Valley on track to be the highest in our historic records,” said acting regional director Pablo Arroyave in a prepared statement.
Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the CVP and the state’s largest reservoir, is 85 percent full and has 40 percent more water than a year ago. Last week dam operators at Shasta opened the facility’s spillway gates to release water for the first time since 1998 to test the system.
The State Water Project, a parallel network of reservoirs and canals, has said its cities and farm customers can expect to receive 60 percent of what they’ve requested this year, a figure likely to grow in the coming weeks. The final figure for 2016 was 60 percent.
On the federal system, Sacramento Valley farmers last year got their full CVP allocation, but most of their peers in the San Joaquin Valley received just 5 percent of what they requested. That followed two years in which San Joaquin Valley growers received no CVP water at all.
That disparity underscores the hit-or-miss quality of California’s water system. Farmers north of the Delta generally have stronger water rights and can expect more generous allocations than those in the San Joaquin Valley.
With record-setting precipitation dramatically easing the drought, water conditions have improved throughout the state. Last winter, despite fairly heavy rains in Northern California, the Bureau of Reclamation faced environmental hurdles and wasn’t able to pump huge volumes of water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farmers and other water users south of the Delta.
This year, there’s been so much water sloshing through the Sacramento Valley that the CVP pumps have been able to increase deliveries significantly. The San Luis Reservoir in Merced County, which takes water from the CVP and is one of the most important reservoirs in the San Joaquin Valley, is 97 percent full. It was barely 40 percent full this time last year.
Farm groups reacted with anger at the CVP’s decision to delay announcing allocations for large swaths of the state’s agricultural land, contending it was another example of the federal government putting the needs of the environment before people.
“There are two months left in the rainy season and California reservoirs are already brim full and making flood releases,” said Jason Peltier, of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, one of the major suppliers of water to San Joaquin Valley farmers. “There is almost nowhere to store additional water and yet our federal partners have been unable to figure out how to share nature’s abundance between our ever-increasing environmental demands and the water users who are paying for the system.”