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San Luis Reservoir image via Google Earth

published on February 23, 2021 - 11:40 AM
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A low water year has resulted in a grim allocation for south-of-Delta contractors depending on supplies from the Central Valley Project.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced an initial water allocation Tuesday of 5% based on estimates of availability. Water allocation is based on levels of reservoir storage, precipitation and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Municipal and industrial users south of the Delta received a 55% allocation of their historical levels.

“Although we had a couple of precipitation-packed storms in January and early February, we are still well below normal for precipitation and snowfall this year,” said Ernest Conant, regional director for the bureau. “We will monitor the hydrology as the water year progresses and continue to look for opportunities for operational flexibility.”

This is an initial allocation. The Bureau of Reclamation reviews the allocation monthly.

The California Department of Water Resources reported that as of Feb. 21, average snow water content in the Sierra Nevada was 54% of the April 1 average, according to a press release from the Bureau. Precipitation in the Northern Sierras is 52% of the seasonal average to date.

Statewide, there are 6 million acre-feet of carryover from previous years in six reservoirs, said Conant in a call to media. As of Feb. 20, capacity in those reservoirs had dropped to 82% of seasonal average, down from 99% before that.

Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham described the allocation as “devastating” in a press release from Westlands.

“Today’s announcement is no surprise given current hydrologic conditions and regulations that restrict operations of the Central Valley Project,” said Birmingham. “But it is devastating nonetheless for farmers and communities across the region that rely on water from the CVP and jobs created by irrigated agriculture.”

Lack of surface water can result in further groundwater pumping.

Westlands Water District receives its water allocation from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. They contract with the federal government for 1.198 million acre-feet. Each year, the Bureau determines what percentage of that allocation is given to individual districts.

In the last 10 years, Westlands has only received a 100% allocation once and a 0% allocation twice, according to the press release.

In response to the allocation, the California Republican Delegation sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Commerce pressing those agencies for support of biological opinions published during former President Donald Trump’s administration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, according to a press release from Rep. David Valadao’s office (R-Hanford).

Those biological opinions were included on a list of regulations up for review by President Joe Biden’s administration, creating uncertainty about the future of those opinions that could bring more water to the Valley via the Delta.

“As a lifelong farmer, I know firsthand just how important reliable water supply is to California farmers, families, and communities.” said Valadao. “The unnecessary review and potential reversal of these important biological opinions would jeopardize water supply to the Central Valley and would have detrimental, long-lasting effects on our local economies. The biological opinions were updated with the most accurate data and were subject to multiple peer-reviews by experts. I urge the Biden Administration to keep these science-based biological opinions intact, allowing our communities to continue feeding America.”

Many of those in water agencies praised the biological opinions issued during the Trump administration that reassessed the impact of pumping water on endangered species.

Within 24 hours of Trump signing the order supporting those opinions, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a lawsuit against the Trump administration. That case was originally sent to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It has since been transferred to the Eastern District Court of California.

Representatives with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would not comment on the litigation.

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