2023 water allocations pour over Friant Division

The Bureau of Reclamation announces over 1 million acre-feet of water for Friant Division this year

LINDSAY – After a recent deluge and heavy snowpack hit the valley, the Friant DIvision is pouring over with water allocations this year.

On Feb. 22, the Bureau of Reclamation announced water supply allocations for the Friant Division contractors and the San Joaquin River (SJR) Restoration Program. The Friant Division, which serves 15,000 family farms and several cities in the valley, will be receiving 100% of their allocated water. The SJR Restoration Program will receive 556,500 acre-feet of water. These allocations are big news for the communities and farms in the Friant Division and on the eastside, as well as for the river restoration effort which had to halt flows last year due to the drought. This comes after a year of heavy rainfall and snowpack for the valley, however, water authorities are not very confident that the water source will equate to a “wet” year.

“We are encouraged by Reclamation’s confidence in water availability for the 2023 water year and appreciate the early allocation announcement, as it helps farmers and water managers plan for planting crops or implementing recharge projects throughout the remainder of the season,” the Friant Division stated in a press release.

Friant Division contractors’ water supply is delivered from Millerton Reservoir on the upper San Joaquin River via the Madera and Friant-Kern canals. The Friant Division is separated by two different classes: class on and class two. The first 800,000 acre-feet of available water supply is considered class one; class two is considered the next amount of available water supply up to 1.4 million acre-feet. Given the current hydrologic conditions, the Friant Division water supply allocation is 100% of class one and 20% of class two.

The SJR Restoration Program will receive a “wet year” allocation of about 556,500 acre-feet of water to support habitat and spawning conditions for returning salmon. This comes after three dry years, two of which required releases from Friant Dam in order to meet exchange contractor demands.

This comes after the most recent deluge and heavy snowpack seen locally in years. SJR is “flashy,” meaning it can be either extremely wet or dry. This January, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted their first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevadas, and found 55.5 inches of snow depth. For that time of year, the amount of snow recorded was 177% above average for the location. However, it is strikingly similar to the prior year, which was one of the driest years the Valley has seen. 

“While we are cautiously optimistic, we are also cognizant of the uncertainties that exist and the fluctuating nature of California’s climate with the possibility that dry conditions will return,” Reclamation Regional Director Ernest Conant said in a statement.

Not to mention the heavy rainfall that plunged Tulare County into a state of emergency. Only two weeks into the new year, the Central Valley had seen about 30-50% of its annual average rainfall. As of Jan. 13, the National Weather Service recorded 3.98 inches of rain at their co-op in Visalia, which is well over the monthly average of .91 inches. With that amount of rain, heavy winds, tornado warnings, evacuation notices and damages, the county declared a state of emergency on Tuesday Jan. 10. The day before, Kaweah River reported the most water intake in the past 16 years.

“We received a much-needed dose of rain and snow in December and January that helped boost the water levels at our [Central Valley] reservoirs,” Conant said. “However, we are all too aware of the precarious nature of recent weather patterns and must proceed prudently as we move through the water year—especially with below average storage in the state’s largest reservoir, Shasta.”

Within the Friant Division, there are 32 contractors that stretch from Tulare, Kern, Fresno, Merced and Madera Counties. These five counties are responsible for more than half of California’s crop values, according to a study from the Friant Division. Not only that, but the Friant Water Authority’s districts account for 78% of irrigated lands and 64% of the federal water supply contracts in the Friant Division.

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