Friant-Kern Canal water allocation currently unchanged after storm

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation holds at 20%, 0% of Class 1 and Class 2 water for Friant contractors

CENTRAL VALLEY – Currently it is a mystery whether last week’s downpour has added to a needing California snowpack.

The latest survey taken at Phillips Station by the California Department of Water Resources on March 2, recorded 56 inches of snow depth with a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 21 inches. According to DWR, that is 86% percent of average for that location.

February was the fifth straight month of below average snow and precipitation pointing to another dry winter. Statewide snow survey measurements continue to reflect the overall dry conditions. Measurements from DWR’s electronic snow survey stations indicate that statewide the snowpack’s SWE is 15 inches, or 61 percent of the March 2 average, and 54 percent of the April 1 average. April 1 is typically when California’s snowpack is the deepest and has the highest SWE.

“As California closes out the fifth consecutive dry month of our water year, absent a series of strong storms in March or April we are going to end with a critically dry year on the heels of last year’s dry conditions,” DWR director Karla Nemeth said on March 2. “With back-to-back dry years, water efficiency and drought preparedness are more important than ever for communities, agriculture and the environment.”

California’s reservoirs are showing the impacts of a second consecutive dry year. Lake Oroville is currently at 55 percent of average and Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is currently at 68 percent of average for this date. Millerton lake that feeds the Friant-Kern Canal, as of March 22, was at only 33.4% of capacity.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation announced allocation for Friant-Kern Canal contractors on Feb. 23. If recent storms had any affect on federal water allocations the Bureau hasn’t said anything. As of late last month, Friant Division contractors were given 20% of the 800,000-acre feet of “Class 1” water, and 0% of 1.4 million acre feet of “Class 2” water.

According to a Bureau of Reclamation press release, this year’s low allocation is an indicator of the dry winter the state is experiencing.

“Although we had a couple of precipitation-packed storms in January and early February, we are still well below normal for precipitation and snowfall this year,” regional director Ernest Conant said. “We will monitor the hydrology as the water year progresses and continue to look for opportunities for operational flexibility.”

The bureau’s allocation report referred to the DWR’s Feb. 21 survey that revealed statewide average snow water content in the Sierra Nevada was 54% of the April 1 average. Fortunately, in addition to the initial 2021 CVP water allocation, several south-of-Delta and Friant Division contractors are rescheduling unused water from 2020 supplies into 2021. That water is being stored in San Luis Reservoir and Millerton Lake. The option to reschedule (carry over) water in San Luis Reservoir and Millerton Lake from one contract year to the next has been available to the water service contractors since the early 1990s. That carry over option was instituted after a series of dry years in the early 1990s to encourage conservation and best water management practices.

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