Farmers to get more water, but not enough

Reggie Ellis

Feds increase surface water deliveries to eastside farmers but most will still need to pump groundwater to get through the summer

SACRAMENTO – Tulare County farmers will be getting more water than expected from a dry winter but far less than is needed to avoid depleting an aquifer that is already drying up.

Following spring storms, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued increased water allocations on May 19 for Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors for the 2020 contract year. The bureau oversees operations of the CVP, one of the nation’s largest water conservation developments, which delivers water to nine units and divisions across 400 miles between the Cascade Mountains near Reding south to the Tehachapi Mountains near Bakersfield.

CVP’s Friant Division, which conveys water deliveries to more than 15,000 small farms along the eastside of the Valley, will receive 60% instead of 55% of its Class 1 water supply thanks to improved hydrologic conditions and the forecasted snowmelt runoff in the Upper San Joaquin River Basin. The Class 1 increase will also benefit the cities of Fresno, Orange Cove and Lindsay, which secure a significant portion of its water connections through the CVP.

“We thank Reclamation for continuing to react quickly to changes in this year’s hydrology that allow for more water to be delivered to farms and communities on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Johnny Amaral, chief of external affairs for the Friant Water Authority. “Each increase in the Friant Division’s allocation reduces both the strain on our already overtaxed groundwater aquifers and the likelihood that small farms may go under this year.”

Friant Division water is split into two classifications: Class 1 and Class 2. The first 800,000 acre-feet of available water supply is considered Class 1. Class 2 is considered the next amount of available water supply up to 1.4 million acre-feet. Friant’s allocation of Class 2 water remained unchanged at “zero” in recognition of 2020 still being a very dry year. Amaral said that amounts to Friant members receiving less than a quarter (22%) of its total contracted amount of 2.2 million acre feet of Class 1 and 2 water. As a result, some farmers will continue to rely on groundwater supplies, potentially further exacerbating subsidence near the Friant-Kern Canal and elsewhere in the Valley.

“We remain steadfast in our pledge to move urgently to address conveyance limitations on the Friant-Kern Canal and work with our local, regional, state, and federal partners to promote policies and actions that help resolve the Valley’s long-term water imbalance,” Amaral said.

The allocation for south-of-Delta agricultural water service contractors is increased from 15% to 20% of their contract total. Municipal and industrial water service contractors south-of-Delta are now allocated 70% of their historic use, up from 65%, or health and safety needs, whichever is greater. These allocation adjustments address releases from Folsom Dam during the summer and have no effect on Reclamation’s ability to comply with the court order dated May 11, 2020 in PCFFA v. Ross and CNRA v. Ross.

“Thanks to April precipitation showing a sizeable water supply improvement for the American River watershed, Reclamation is pleased to announce this increased allocation for CVP water contractors south-of-the Delta,” said California-Great Basin Regional Director Ernest Conant. “Friant Division Class 1 contractors are also benefiting from improved hydrologic conditions. Even with the recent gains in water supply, the year as a whole has still been relatively dry. Reclamation will continue to monitor conditions and adjust accordingly. We urge our contractors to continue to exercise conservative use of the resource.”

As the water year progresses, changes in hydrology and opportunities to deliver additional water will influence future allocations. Water supply updates are posted at www.usbr.gov/mp/cvp-water/index.html.

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