CVP remains cautious on water allocation


Issue Date: January 25, 2017
By Christine Souza
Shasta Dam releases water into the Sacramento River to assure the reservoir behind it retains room for flood control. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Shasta as part of the Central Valley Project, will announce in February whether the CVP will deliver more water than it has in recent years, when supplies have been constrained by drought and Endangered Species Act fishery protections.
Photo/Sheri Harral, U.S. Bureau of Recamation
Water pours out of Keswick Dam, part of the Central Valley Project. Reservoir operators have been releasing water to accommodate runoff from strong January storms and expected future runoff.
Photo/Sheri Harral, U.S. Bureau of Recamation

As each passing storm delivers more snowpack to the mountains and fills many California reservoirs to above-average levels, operators of the federal Central Valley Project remain cautious about projecting agricultural water supplies for the coming year.

In preparation for its initial 2017 water supply announcement, expected next month, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the CVP, released an update of water conditions for its reservoirs. The largest, Shasta Lake, stood at 82 percent of capacity and 124 percent of average as of last week. The reservoir level at Shasta is so high that water officials have been releasing water down the Sacramento River for flood-control purposes, in preparation for subsequent storms.

But bureau leaders said it's still too early to make a projection about whether CVP agricultural customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta can expect more water than the 5 percent supply the project delivered last year. The CVP delivered no water to those customers in 2014 or 2015.

Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo acknowledged precipitation throughout the Central Valley has been significantly above average and that storms have brought large amounts of rain and snow.

"We hope conditions remain wet. Regardless, we must be prudent as we develop our initial CVP water allocation, since we know that weather patterns can change," Murillo said.

As required by its contracts with water districts, the CVP will make an initial declaration of whether 2017 is a Shasta Critical year on or before Feb. 15, according to the bureau.

Louis Moore, a spokesman for the bureau's Mid-Pacific Region, said the agency balances the operation of CVP water for agricultural, municipal and industrial, and environmental purposes based on many factors, including input from other agencies.

"We are always conservative, but we've seen years like this that are very wet and all of a sudden dry up, and it changes the entire scope of things. Even if we have a really good rainy season, we are still hopeful that there is enough snowpack in the mountains to take us from April 1 all of the way to Sept. 30," Moore said. "We wait until February typically, which is when we have collected enough data, but it's still too early in the year."

Pumping of water from CVP and State Water Project facilities in the delta has been constrained by Endangered Species Act requirements intended to protect fish species. In December, Congress passed and the president signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which included provisions allowing water agencies to capture more water during winter storms and requiring them to maximize water supplies consistent with law.

With the strong January storm runoff and the WIIN Act, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said he expects water managers to store additional water in reservoirs such as San Luis Reservoir, and increase the allocation for CVP farmers.

"They should be pumping incredible amounts of water right now under the WIIN Act, and if they can't do it now, when are we going to do it?" Wenger said.

San Luis Reservoir, located south of the delta, receives water from the delta pumping facilities to be held for later use by both federal and state water projects. As of the beginning of the week, San Luis stood at 77 percent of capacity or 124 percent of average.

The state Department of Water Resources, which operates the State Water Project, announced last week that its water contractors will receive at least 60 percent of requested supplies, an increase from a 45 percent allocation a month earlier.

The increased allocation comes as a result of storms that have filled Lake Oroville, the primary source of water for 29 agencies that contract with the state project to provide water for 25 million residents and irrigate 750,000 acres. Lake Oroville had reached 81 percent of capacity, or 126 percent of average, as of last week.

At the start of this week, DWR reported that January storms had swelled the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which had grown to 180 percent of average for the date.

In the CVP service area, Sal Parra Jr., who farms in western Fresno County within the Westlands Water District, said knowing the CVP allocation early would be helpful to growers.

"For planting purposes, it's good to know so we have a supply that we can count on, to figure out how many acres and what crops to plant. The sooner we know that information, the better," Parra said. "The state's allocation has already been increased to 60 percent. We should have at least an indication of what to expect, given the amount of hydrology that we've had."

Parra noted that farmers in the region have been told, at this point, to expect an initial CVP allocation of between 10 percent and 15 percent.

"I'm optimistic that we'll at least be there, but definitely, we want to be higher than that," he said.

As Parra and fellow farmers watch water from the storms head down rivers for flood protection, he said, "It all goes to show how much of a need we have for additional storage. If we had a Sites (Reservoir) or a Temperance Flat, we could capture some of that water and save it for a later time. Those are things that legislators have to see and realize that when this water leaves, it's gone and it's a lost opportunity."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.