Lower than average rain fall leads to only a 30 percent water allocation for Friant Division contractors


CENTRAL VALLEY – Some have acted as if California’s historic drought was falling away in the distance from the rearview mirror. But with far lower than average rain fall this winter difficult choices have to be made with only so much water to go around. And last week the Bureau of Reclamation announced the Friant Division contractors would only be receiving a 30 percent allocation of Class 1 water supplies.

According to a statement from Chief Executive Officer of the Friant Water Authority (FWA), Jason Phillips, the decision was not unexpected.

“The Bureau cited the need to be conservative given that the 2018 Water Year has already been far drier than normal. We understand their hesitation to allocate more water given this year’s hydrology,” Phillips statement says.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued a statement in response to the Bureau’s announcement as well and noted the major difference between 2017 and 2018.

“The statewide average snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada was 4.3 inches (20 percent of the historical average), and rainfall is currently at approximately 60 percent of the historical average for the northern Central Valley,” the statement from DWR read.

Phillips said if weather conditions continue to vacillate between ever-increasing extremes on a year-to-year basis, the flexibility to store additional water would allow San Joaquin Valley communities to continue to thrive and prosper.

David Murillo, director of the Bureau’s Mid-Pacific Region, said the low allocation matched by the extremely low rain fall is another indication of the need for additional water storage in the State.

“Given what we know today, and what we see in the forecast, we must be very conservative with our allocation. If this lack of rain and snow continues, we could very well be right back in drought operations. A situation like this really underscores the need for more storage in California,” said Murillo.

However, when it comes to determining allocations Phillips and Murillo issue fundamentally different statements.

“There are many factors we have to consider when determining CVP allocations – hydrologic conditions, reservoir storage levels, water quality requirements, water rights priority, contractual obligations, and endangered species protections,” Murillo said. “All of these are taken into account with the goal of exercising all authorities available to us to maximize water supplies.”

Phillips says in his statement that, “As long as regulators focus solely on the failed strategy of holding back water from water users and then releasing more water into the ocean to support species who likely need more comprehensive recovery measures, we will continue to squander opportunities to operate our water projects for the benefit of the vast majority of California.”

Despite policy strife between the FWA, Bureau of Reclamation and DWR, Phillips added the FWA is grateful for the preliminary allocation and is hopeful the allocation will increase with additional rainfall in March.

Phillips noted while contractors might receive a low allocation they are nonetheless encouraged the  allocation for agricultural contractors’ south of the San Joaquin Delta will not be used by the Bureau to meet obligation under the San Joaquin River Exchange Contract which happened in 2014 and 2015.

The low allocation is further exacerbated by the possibility of increased groundwater pumping which creates other issues like subsidence. Portions of the canal have already lost about 60 percent of their designed conveyance capacity due to subsidence largely caused by water users outside of the Friant Division. Despite 2017 being the wettest year on record, Phillips said 300,000 acre feet of water went undelivered due to subsidence affecting the canal .

“Contractors that rely on water through the Cross Valley Canal near Bakersfield didn’t receive any of their water at all because canal subsidence problems made it physically impossible to deliver their water. This is a dire problem likely made worse this year with the low allocations we heard about today,” Phillips wrote in his statement released last week.

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