The Bureau of Reclamation has zeroed out water allocations to irrigation districts from the Central Valley Project in its initial assessment for the year. This is the fourth time in a decade that south-of-Delta contractors had 0% water allocations.
Regional Director Ernest Conant blamed the weather whiplash, with December storms followed by two of the driest winter months on record. Those storms brought little benefit to the state’s largest reservoirs, however.
Limited snowmelt runoff will lead to less overall storage if spring rains don’t come. Inflow to major reservoirs has dropped by more than a million acre-feet over the last two weeks alone and is expected to decrease further.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us this year,” said Conant.
Westlands Water District fallowed more than 200,000 acres last year, and, in a statement Wednesday, cited the drought as a reason to invest in more surface and groundwater storage and in improving conveyance facilities. Rep. David Valadao agreed, calling the “unacceptably low” allocation a devastating blow to farmers.
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“Our farms will not survive without a reliable water supply,” said the Fresno Republican.
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson called it time for the Water Commission to approve the $2.7 billion for funding water storage projects from the Proposition 1 water bond in 2014.
“We can no longer afford to neglect our aging water infrastructure, which was once the envy of the world,” said Johansson.
The outlook is slightly better for some Friant Division contractors along the San Joaquin River, with a 15% allocation. But the Friant Water Authority argued the local conditions are better than Reclamation’s conservative estimate.
“Not allocating water that is clearly available will only exacerbate an unnecessary rush to pump groundwater,” the authority said in a statement.
Meanwhile, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, along with their Oregon and Arizona counterparts, are pushing to include $616 million in emergency drought funding in the upcoming omnibus appropriations bill.
About half of that would fund agricultural assistance. The lawmakers argue the emergency relief would preserve endangered salmon in the Central Valley “without jeopardizing agriculture.”