State, feds adjust water allocation in light of dry winter

The Bureau of Reclamations changed their initial water allocation for federal contractors to 5% of class 1 water, 0% of class 2

SACRAMENTO – April 1 is traditionally the peak of the California snow pack, and the most telling snowpack survey. As of last week, the State Water Resources Control Board is not optimistic.

In a press release the Department of Water Resources announced they were adjusting its initial state water project (SWP allocation for 2021 and the Bureau of Reclamation was making similar adjustments as well.

“The department now expects to deliver 5 percent of requested supplies this year, down from the initial allocation of 10 percent announced in December,” the press release stated. “The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Central Valley Project, is also expected to adjust its initial CVP water supply allocation accordingly.”

Where the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial allocation to CVP contractors in February was 20% of class 1 water and 5% of class 2 water, the revised allocation as of March 23 was 5% and 0% respectively. These adjustments come on the heals of California’s second consecutive dry year and a drought declaration in sight.

Reservoir conditions all over the state are below their historical average. Millerton Lake that feeds the Friant-Kern Canal is at 34% of capacity as of Sunday, March 28. Historically the lake sits at 49% of capacity around this time of the year.

“Reservoir and groundwater levels are significantly below average, and despite recent storms, snowpack is only 63% of average as of March 10. After two years of below average precipitation, officials don’t expect the April 1 snow survey to reveal significant improvement in the water supply outlook this year,” a March 22, state water control board press release stated.

While water contractors all over the state will feel the pinch when it comes to irrigating their crops, cities will have to find ways to conserve. Late last year Visalia’s water resource manager Andrew Munn told the council he was recommending the city move into Stage 2 of its water conservation ordinance on March 1, 2021 and to move into Stage 3 if the aquifer drops to a historic low.

Under Stage 2, which did go into effect on March 1, Visalians will only be allowed to run their sprinklers two days per week March through November and not at all December through February. Overseeding of lawns, ornamental lakes or ponds and temporary water slides are prohibited. Sports fields and golf courses may deviate from the watering schedule to maintain play areas but must present a plan to the city manager to reduce overall use by 20%. Similarly, large landscape areas, such as parks, schools and cemeteries, may deviate from restrictions but must present a plan to reduce overall use by 30%. New permanent plantings are exempt from water restrictions for the first 21 days but must be approved by the Community Development Department.

Visalia’s groundwater has dramatically fallen since 1948, the first year the city began tracking depth to groundwater. In April of 1990, the water table was just 40 feet below ground level. It has dropped each decade measuring 72 feet in 2000, 116 feet in 2010, and 134 feet this June, following another below average rainfall season, the ninth in the last 11 years. The water table reached an all-time low of 142 feet below ground level in 2016 following the historic drought from 2011 to 2016. California Water Service (CalWater), the private utility company the city contracts with, currently has the groundwater level at 134 feet below the surface.

The city council would need to approve moving into the more restrictive Stage 3, which has not been discussed yet.

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