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DroughtFriant-Kern Canal

Dry conditions could cut Friant water to zero in a replay of 2014-2015 drought

 •  by Lois Henry
The Friant Dam holds water in Millerton Lake, which supplies farms and towns with water from Fresno to Arvin. CREDIT: Lois Henry

Farms and towns in the south San Joaquin Valley that rely on water from Millerton Lake north of Fresno are anxiously waiting to hear if they will be cut to zero again this year.

That happened in 2014 and again in 2015 when that prolonged drought was so bad the Bureau of Reclamation couldn’t deliver enough water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to districts known as the San Joaquin Exchange Contractors. Instead, the Bureau pulled water from Millerton for the Exchange Contractors and cut contractors from Fresno to Arvin zero water those years.

The Bureau again finds itself in a potential bind getting water from the delta as dry conditions have triggered concerns over keeping enough water in Shasta Lake to protect winter-run Chinook salmon. The fish need cool temperatures to survive the summer and be able to spawn.

Now all eyes are on how the Bureau responds to a May 21 demand from the California State Water Resources Control Board that it cut its water deliveries to make sure that by the end of September there is still 1.25 million acre feet in the lake even as flows from the Sacramento River dwindle. Even at that level, the National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Fisheries Science Center estimates there could be a 50% to 80% die off of salmon eggs.

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