Dry Weather Forces Cuts in Federal, State Water Supply Allocations in California

By Carolyn Whetzel  

LOS ANGELES--Continued dry weather conditions in Northern California have prompted federal and state agencies to further reduce this year's water deliveries via the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced an update to the 2013 Central Valley Project allocations it released in February that cuts supplies to agricultural water service contractors in the south Sacrament-San Joaquin River Delta from 25 percent to 20 percent of their contracted levels. The federal and state agency actions were announced March 22.

Allocations for the south-of-delta municipal and industrial contractors dropped from 75 percent to 70 percent of their historic use, under Reclamation's March update.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) also decreased its prior 2013 water delivery estimate, reducing from 40 percent to 35 percent of requested State Water Project water.

Twenty-nine public agencies that buy water from the state requested more than 4 million acre-feet from the project this year.

DWR officials said if hydrologic conditions improve, the delivery estimate “may change.’’

In written statements, both agencies said the initial allocations were low due to the dry winter but also the result of reduced pumping restrictions needed to protect endangered salmon and threatened delta smelt fish populations.

Efforts Sought to Facilitate Supplemental Supplies

“We are facing a challenging water year, but we continue to look for opportunities to facilitate supplemental water supplies through water transfer and exchange programs and new arrangements that could lead to additional flows in the system,’’ David Murillo, the bureau's mid-Pacific regional director, said. “We are exploring all options to assist in alleviating the serious impacts of these drought conditions.’’

Also, officials from the two agencies pointed out the new diversion and conveyance facility proposed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which state officials began rolling out March 14, would improve delta water supply reliability even in dry periods (2013 WLPM, 3/20/13).

DWP Director Mark Corwin said that if the agency had a north delta diversion on the Sacramento River, as the BDCP proposes, it would not have had to rely solely on its south delta pumping plant to divert water from winter storms to the San Luis Reservoir.

“We reduced pumping this winter to protect fish from reverse flows in south Delta streams that entrain fish and divert them from their migratory routes,’’ Corwin said. “The new intakes and habitat restoration proposed by the BDCP would mitigate this problem. These ongoing conflicts will continue until we fundamentally change the way we convey water from the Delta.’’

Water Contractors Favor Implementation

Water contractors responding to the cuts echoed the importance of implementing the new conveyance system the BDCP proposes, which calls for construction of twin tunnels beneath the delta and new intakes in the north.

“This reduction in allocations illustrates the need for water infrastructure that is flexible enough to capture supplies when they are available,’’ Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors, said in a written statement. “There is no way to predict the amount of rain and snow we will get each year, which is why it is vital that we can capture water when it is available so we can save it for these dry spells.”

Erlewine said the Bay Delta Conservation Plan will provide this flexibility.

Westlands Water District said the reductions will harm farmers and local communities.

“Our water supply infrastructure is broken,’’ Westlands General Manager Thomas Birmingham said in a written statement. “The laws that were designed to protect fish and provide some reasonable balance between the needs of fish and people for water have failed. Something must be done to correct these failures.’’

Feinstein Calls Cuts 'Devastating'

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called the 20 percent cut to south-of-the-delta farmers “devastating’’ and urged the Interior Department, the Bureau of Reclamation, water contractors, and the state to work together to address the situation.

“The water allocation must be increased if California farmers are going to be able to produce,’’ Feinstein said in a written statement.

The bureau's updated 2013 Central Valley Project allocations only decrease deliveries for the south-of-delta contractors.

CVP allocations for the north-of-the-delta contractors, wildlife refuges, Friant Division Contractors, and Eastside Water Service Contractors remain as announced on Feb. 25.

Specifically, the Sacramento River agricultural contractors will receive 75 percent of their contracted 443,000 acre-feet; Sacramento River municipal and industrial contractors will get 100 percent of the contracted supply; Sacramento River Settlement Contractors, based upon their senior water rights and other criteria, will receive 100 percent of their contracted 2.2 million acre-feet; American River municipal and industrial contractors served by the Folsom Reservoir will get 75 percent of their historic use; and the Contra Costa Water District will receive 75 percent of its historic use amount of 170,000 acre-feet.

Wildlife Refuges, Friant Division Contractors

The wildlife refuges in the north- and south-of-the-delta will receive 100 percent of their contracted 442,000 acre-feet.

Friant Division Contractors will get 65 percent of their contracted 800,000 acre-feet, or Class 1 water supply and none of the 1.4 million acre-feet of their Class 2 supply, which the bureau said “is being further evaluated.’’

Eastside Water Service Contractors, the Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District, and the Stockton East Water District will receive all of their 155,000 acre-feet contracted amount.