published on April 1, 2016 - 2:02 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
Central Valley agriculture and political leaders were quick to react to today’s announcement by the federal Bureau of Reclamation that Fresno County’s west side federal water contractors will receive a 5 percent surface water allocation in 2016 while Friant users will get a 30 percent allocation.

Federal officials emphasized that the water allocation were “a cautious estimate.”

“While we are on track for near-average precipitation this year, the ongoing and residual impacts of the multi-year drought continue,” said Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo. “The impacts this summer will be greatest on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.”

In both 2014 and 2015, west side water users received a zero percent federal allocation.

“Today’s announcement is absurd and illustrates the degree of mismanagement and inconsistency by the federal government in operating the Central Valley Project,” said Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

The federally managed Central Valley Project affects Fresno County-based Westlands, Panoche and San Luis water districts, Tranquility and James irrigation districts, as well as other smaller districts along the Valley’s west side and the Friant Unit on the east side.

The current federal water policy upon which most Central Valley farmers depend “has failed,” Jacobsen said. “It has failed to protect fish species and, most importantly, it’s failed to provide water to the communities and businesses who need it most.”

Criticism of the latest paltry water allocation gushed from other Valley leaders as well on Friday.

Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes called the fed’s announcement “a complete joke.”

Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright said, “It’s despicable. Somebody’s math is off or somebody’s politics are.”

Officials at Westlands Water District released their own blistering statement.

“It may be difficult for some people to understand how, in a year in which north-of-Delta Central Valley Project agricultural water service contractors receive a 100 percent allocation, south-of-Delta agricultural water service contractors receive only 5 percent. The north-of-Delta contractors are not more ‘senior’ than south-of-Delta contractors. And the State Water Resources Control Board and federal courts have both held that area of origin laws do not give north-of-Delta contractors any priority over contractors in the Central Valley Project export service area. “

“Since December 2015, more than 8 million acre-feet of water has flowed into the Delta, while pumping into key south-of-the Delta reservoirs has been severely limited by the 2008 biological opinion for the Delta smelt,” said today’s statement from Westlands. “Indeed, through January and February of 2016, the Central Valley Project Jones Pumping Plant diverted less water than in January and February of 2015, when extended drought conditions resulted in very little inflow into the Delta.”

Gayle Holman, a spokesperson for Westlands, said Valley residents need to “encourage our elected officials to move legislation forward” to fix the state’s “broken” water laws.

Jacobsen agreed and said today’s announcement “shows just how broken the system is.”

“To be on the receiving end of another 5 percent allocation shows the ridiculousness of it all,” Jacobsen added. “Five percent is something but it is not even remotely going to begin to reverse the losses we’ve seen.”

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