Initial federal water allocations for valley ag are low at 15 and 20 percent

February 25, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

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An historically dry February forced the feds to keep initial water allocations to Central Valley Project contractors low in the first round of allocations announced Tuesday during a call with federal water contractors.

The Bureau of Reclamation is looking at delivering 15 percent of contracted amounts to agricultural contractors, such as Westlands Water District, south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

For contractors on the Friant Division, which gets water from the upper San Joaquin River, allocations for Class 1 water were set at 20 percent.

The San Joaquin River Restoration program was allotted 71,000 acre feet.

This is the first water action taken by the feds since the controversial new federal biological opinions were signed last week by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. California filed a lawsuit over the opinions, which opponents say will decimate native fish populations in the delta.

The biops, along with a memorandum also signed last week by President Trump during a campaign rally in Bakersfield, encourage the Bureau to “maximize water supplies to meet the needs of the environment, families, cities and farms,” Ernest Conant, Director of the California Great Basin, said on Tuesday’s call.

“But we are still constrained by what nature provides.”

Statewide the snow pack is sitting at 40 percent of normal, Conant said.

He noted that under the old “biops” as they are known: “We wouldn’t have been able allocate water for north-of-delta contractors at this time and the other allocations might have been different.”

Though Westlands only received a 15-percent allocation, General Manager Tom Birmingham likewise praised the biops for mandating allocations be made sooner than in previous years.

“In 2009, allocations weren’t made until April,” he said noting that is very late in the season for farmers to make plans.

Here’s who got how much per Tuesday’s call:

100 percent – Exchange Contractors, and south-of-delta wildlife refuges

65 percent – south-of-delta municipal and industrial contractors

50 percent – north-of-delta ag contractors

20 percent – Class 1 Friant contractors (0 percent for Class 2)

15 percent – south-of-delta ag contractors

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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