Water supply outlook improves; Delta channel barriers canceled

A wet March is yielding benefits for California’s water supply, as state and federal officials announced Friday that deliveries to some of their contractors will be increased.

The California Department of Water Resources will boost deliveries to its State Water Project contractors from a dismal zero to 5 percent of normal allocations for the balance of the year. These water users include urban agencies in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as agricultural water users in Kern County.

DWR also announced it is canceling a controversial proposal to dam three waterways in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to control salinity intrusion. There will be enough runoff to hold back salinity without the barriers, said DWR director Mark Cowin, although planning and permitting for the project will continue in case conditions change.

Because of low rainfall in December and January, this winter will still rank as the third- or fourth-driest ever recorded in California, Cowin said. He said he would be “very surprised” to see any additional increase in water deliveries and emphasized it is important to conserve water in case next winter is also dry.

“This is all a bit of good news in an otherwise very bleak water year,” Cowin said. “I cannot overemphasize the continued need for all Californians to continue to use water as efficiently as possible over the course of the coming dry, hot months.”

The revised allocation does not affect deliveries in the Sacramento region, which gets its water from other sources.

Also Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced increased water deliveries for its agricultural water contractors and for wildlife refuges in the Sacramento Valley. Their water allocation will be increased from 40 percent to 75 percent, which will significantly improve the Valley’s rice crop as well as habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife.

Tim Johnson, CEO of the California Rice Commission, said the crop will be down about 20 percent, or 100,000 acres, as a result of the 75 percent allocation. But that’s better than a 200,000-acre reduction that was projected with a 40 percent water allocation.

“Certainly, it’s a better day today than it was two weeks ago,” Johnson said. “Farmers will be working really hard to get their crop in by the first of June.”

In addition, many of those Sacramento Valley agricultural water customers, known as “settlement contractors,” agreed to take their water deliveries later in the summer. This delay will help preserve cold water in Lake Shasta to protect endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. State and federal wildlife agencies will also increase monitoring of the species to assure it can survive the summer, and will fast-track a number of habitat restoration projects.

“It’s a good example of what can be done through collaboration in some really tough conditions,” said Maria Rea, assistant regional administrator at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Other Reclamation water contractors, including farm irrigation agencies in the San Joaquin Valley, can expect an updated water allocation forecast in seven to 10 days, said regional director David Murillo.

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