The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Wednesday set the initial allocations for the Central Valley Project (CVP) at 35% for irrigation contractors south of the Delta. Soon after, the Department of Water Resources bumped State Water Project (SWP) deliveries up another 5% to match its federal counterpart and to account for gains in the snowpack.
Settlement contractors will have full allocations, offering a respite for Sacramento Valley farmers and the local economy after an unprecedented 14% allocation last year. Reclamation had zeroed out south-of-Delta allocations for the past two years and in 2019, the last wet year, set them at 35%, while the SWP ended that year with 75% allocations.
Reclamation Regional Director Ernest Conant warned the final allocations for the water year will hinge on Lake Shasta. The reservoir is 90% rain fed and remains below average, putting the CVP “on the cusp” of a critical year, which would trigger deeper cuts to deliveries. Or it could swing in the opposite direction with just one or two large storms. Conant cautioned it will take some time to recover from three years of record drought.
With dry weather over the past month, the snowpack is trending down from a peak of 218% and now stands at 173% of normal for this date.
Irrigation districts and farm groups were excited to see allocations tick up. The Friant Water Authority appreciated Reclamation’s confidence in water availability and its early announcement, which will help farmers determine plantings and plan recharge projects.
Yet many have not lost sight of the fact that upgrading infrastructure and enabling more regulatory flexibility would have benefited the projects.
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“I cannot help but wonder how much higher this allocation could have been with the ability to capture more water during the wet periods,” said Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association.
Republican Rep. David Valadao of Fresno argued users have paid for the water and “we must ensure these allocations are not reduced as the water year progresses.”
It is a different era in water management when farmers celebrate receiving just a third of their water allocations. The last time the SWP had 100% allocations was in 2006, before litigation over endangered species changed the regulatory paradigm in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The State Water Resources Control Board, meanwhile, has approved a petition to allow state and federal agencies to preserve more water in reservoirs over the next two months, releasing less into rivers. This is the third consecutive year the agencies have used an emergency regulation to override endangered species regulations, stoking consistent anger among environmental groups.