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Spring 2012

March Miracle Increases Water Supply

Call it another March miracle but thanks to spring rains Central Valley water contractors will see an increase in their water supply for the upcoming irrigation season.  In February, the Bureau of Reclamation announced North and South of the Delta water contractors would be cut by 70 percent and Sacramento River Settlement contractors by 25 percent.  Growers did not have many options but to follow fields and only irrigate permanent crops, which would greatly impact our local communities.

Precipitation in the Sacramento River Basin is currently 81 percent of the seasonal average to date, precipitation in the San Joaquin River Basin is 58 percent of the seasonal average to date, and the snow water content ranges from 81 percent of the April 1 average for the Northern Sierra to 32 percent for the Southern Sierra. Due to the improved hydrology since mid-March, combined with actions to improve water management throughout the CVP, Reclamation announces the following updated allocations based upon the 90-percent exceedence (dry future conditions) forecast:

North-of-Delta: • Agricultural and M&I water service contractors’ allocation has increased to 100 percent from the initial allocation of 30 percent for agricultural contractors and 75 percent of their historic use for M&I contractors of their contract supply of 782,740 acre-feet (includes American River M&I – 313,750 acre-feet, and Sacramento River M&I and Agriculture – 468,990 acre-feet).

• Sacramento River Settlement Contractors’ allocation has increased to 100 percent from the initial allocation of 75 percent of their contract supply of 2.1 MAF. These contractors receive their CVP water supply based upon pre-CVP held water rights, and the allocation is tied to pre-established Shasta inflow criteria.

• Wildlife refuges’ allocation has increased to 100 percent from the initial allocation of 75 percent of their Level 2 contract supply of 151,250 acre-feet. Refuge water allocations are also based upon Shasta inflow criteria.

South-of-Delta: • Agricultural water service contractors’ allocation has increased to 40 percent from the initial allocation of 30 percent of their contract supply of 1.9 MAF.

• M&I water service contractors’ allocation remains unchanged at 75 percent of their historic use. The allocations may be adjusted to meet public health and safety needs.

• The allocation for San Joaquin River Exchange and Settlement Contractors has increased to 100 percent of their contract supply of 875,000 acre-feet from their initial allocation of 75 percent. These contractors receive their CVP water supply based upon pre-CVP held water rights, and the allocation is tied to Shasta inflow criteria.

• Wildlife refuges’ allocation (Level 2) has increased to 100 percent from the initial allocation of 75 percent of their contract supply of 271,000 acre-feet. The refuges’ allocation is based upon Shasta inflow criteria.

Jeff Sutton, general manager of Tehama Colusa Canal Authority had the following comments about the recent water allocations.

“Growers within the 150,000 acre Tehama Colusa Canal Authority service area, from Red Bluff to Dunnigan, it was truly a March Miracle.  In early/mid March, we were sitting at a 30% allocation of contracted water supply, hoping that number wouldn’t be reduced as a result of the dry conditions that persisted throughout one of the driest winters on record.  However, the following four weeks saw significant precipitation, increasing water storage in Shasta Reservoir by over one million acre feet, boosting allocations to 100%.  Both Sacramento River Settlement Contractors and Central Valley Project water service contractors alike are celebrating the fact that mother nature decided to become much more accommodating come springtime, thus avoiding disastrous impacts to orchards, the fallowing of rich farmland, and the need for expensive water transfers.   

While we are grateful for the improved water supply this year, it is no time to forget the dire circumstances that almost occurred, or the recent water cutbacks experienced in 2008 and 2009.  It is a travesty that we found ourselves in such a predicament early this water year, when just last year, we experienced one of the wettest winters on record.  Both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project were built to store water in wet times so that we could draw from those resources during times of drought.  However, the system is broken.  Why?  Two primary reasons:  (1) Environmental regulations continue to limit operations and diminish the benefits we can accrue from the investments made by our predecessors; and (2) the neglect to invest in much needed new water infrastructure, particularly surface storage, thus ignoring the ever increasing water demands of a growing populace.  Common sense dictates that there are solutions to these problems.  It is incumbent upon us to be vigilante in working towards reforming these shortcomings in times of abundance, or we will soon find ourselves experiencing water shortages on an annual basis.” ■

 

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