State and federal water project allocations updated

On April 18th, both U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued updates to previous allocation announcements because storms in February and March improved water supply forecasts.

Reclamation is increasing Central Valley Project (CVP) allocations for Sacramento River Settlement Contractors and North-of-the-Delta wildlife refuges from 40% to 75%, while allocations for all other CVP contractors remains unchanged from the initial allocation announced in February, so allocations are:

  • 75% for Sacramento River Settlement Contractors (up from 40%)
  • 75% for North-of-Delta Wildlife Refuges (up from 40%)
  • 55% for Eastside contractors (unchanged)
  • 40% for San Joaquin Exchange and Settlement Contractors (unchanged)
  • 40% for South-of-Delta wildlife refuges (unchanged)
  • 50% for all other M&I water service contractors (unchanged)
  • 0% for all other agricultural water service contractors (unchanged)

Increasing the allocation to the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors brings their allocation in line with their contracts, which allow them to be reduced to 75% in critical years; otherwise they get 100% allocations.  While the contractors will still feel economic and environmental impacts from the reduced supply, having a 75% allocation will allow them to the flexibility to manage the water in a way that benefits all types of users.

“We appreciate the willingness of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to partner with the Settlement Contractors to maximize the efficiency of the Central Valley Project,” said Don Bransford, Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District board president. “In dry years like 2014, we need every drop of water to be used in an efficient way to benefit both the economy and the environment. The operations along the Sacramento River this year will serve triple duty: the water will be used for salmon, for birds along the Pacific Flyway, and for family farms in the region.”

Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (GCID) is one of the many Sacramento River Settlement Contractors.  GCID General Manager Thaddeus told the Appeal Democrat that there had been a lot of meetings on the issue and that finally having a decision is a “huge relief” to their growers.

While Reclamation provided relief to only a limited portion of its contractors, DWR provided limited relief to all of its contractors announcing an allocation increase from 0% to 5% for all 29 contractors—but the water will not be available for delivery until September.

The increase from 0% to 5% means contractors will receive a little more than 200,000 acre-feet of the more than 4 million acre-feet requested.  The limited volume and the late timing of deliveries means benefits from this increase will be limited—but according the State Water Contractors, it will increase flexibility, improve local water management efforts and ensure that the most at-risk communities don’t run out of water.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) began the year with sufficient reserves to meet demands during the drought and as its member agencies have been calling on those supplies the reserves are dropping.

In light of the announcement from DWR, MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger made a statement reminding the public that we can and need to conserve water.

“Metropolitan was fortunate to enter this drought with sizeable water reserves. But those reserves are slowly dropping as they are used by our 26 member public agencies and the 19 million people they serve. Lowering demand is the one thing each and every one of us can do to ensure that our reserves will be sufficient to withstand a drought that has no end in sight,” said Kightlinger.  “Today’s announcement does not materially change the historic nature of this   drought and the ongoing water challenge for Southern California and all of the state.  Metropolitan appreciates the challenge facing numerous state and federal agencies to manage California’s remaining water resources in the most responsible and efficient manner possible.”

The same conditions that allowed DWR to increase the allocation also allow the agency to avoid constructing rock barriers at this time to prevent saltwater intrusion in the Delta.  The barriers, which were part of the agency’s Drought Operations Plan, would have prevented the Sacramento River from branching into the Sutter and Steamboat Sloughs and the San Joaquin River from flowing into the False River, thereby keeping more freshwater in the main channel of the Sacramento River and repelling saltwater coming in from the bay.  The barriers are a problematic solution, though, because they would impair water quality for certain agricultural water users in the north Delta, hurt fisheries and adversely impact boating and recreational activities in the Delta.  The water captured during the recent storms allows DWR to maintain salinity levels without constructing the barriers or using water from upstream reservoirs.

In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will be able to fast track implementing a program to monitor and manage spawning, rearing and stranding conditions for long-fin smelt, green sturgeon, and salmon and steelhead and to closely watch water temperatures for the winter run Chinook salmon.

DWR continues to monitor conditions throughout the season, but does not anticipate any further augmentation of existing supplies.

Written by Marta Weismann