Ag Alert Update: Less-than-full CVP water allocation ‘boggles the mind’


Issue Date: March 22, 2017
Christine Souza

Surprised by the announcement that Central Valley Project farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would only receive 65 percent of contracted supplies, farmer Nathan Cardella of Mendota wanted to know, "If it is not a 100-percent year, then what will be a 100-percent year?"

Cardella, who farms in the Westlands Water District, said the figure doesn't reflect the season's hydrology, which has produced record or near-record precipitation.

"It's just a sick, twisted nightmare that even in a year like this we are looking at a 65-percent allocation," Cardella said. "This is cause for great, great concern. My dad and I are already having discussions of whether we should get out of farming."

He said his family fallowed a third of its ranch this year, in part because the CVP allocation announcement was delayed from its typical February timing.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the CVP, made the initial allocation on Wednesday, which came late so federal water officials could assess hydrological factors, river flows and accumulation of rainfall and snowpack.

CVP officials said agricultural water service contractors north of the delta would receive 100 percent supplies, as would its municipal and industrial contractors north of the delta; south-of-delta municipal contractors received a 90-percent allocation.

Last month, the CVP allocated 100 percent supplies to water users in its Friant Division; it had earlier allocated 100 percent supplies to Sacramento River settlement contractors and San Joaquin River exchange contractors.

Bureau Acting Mid-Pacific Regional Director Pablo Arroyave described the 65-percent allocation as an initial forecast that could increase as the water year progresses.

"In 2011, we ended up at 80 percent and that is not impossible. We could see a final allocation in that range," Arroyave said.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the announcement of 65 percent supplies for south-of-delta agricultural contractors shows how operation of the state's water system remains in need of an overhaul.

"In the alternate universe of California water, we can have floods, full reservoirs and a huge snowpack and still not have full water supplies. It boggles the mind," Wenger said.

"Operation of our water system remains out of whack," he said. "We need to continue efforts to improve and expand the system," pointing to last year's passage of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act as "an important step in addressing the system's inadequacies."

Wenger called on Congress to follow through with measures such as Rep. David Valadao's Gaining Responsibility on Water Act, which would offer longer-term ability to store and move water, and said farmers and ranchers will also press Congress to modernize endangered-species laws, "to balance the goals of environmental restoration with the ability to provide the resources needed to grow food and farm products."

At the state level, he said, California must move as quickly as possible to invest money from the Proposition 1 water bond into storage projects that provide the state with more ability to store water in wet winters such as this.

"Improved storage capacity, both above and below ground, is crucial to California's long-term ability to withstand droughts, protect against floods and gain the flexibility needed to allow people and the environment to thrive," Wenger said.

In a news release, the Westlands Water District called the CVP allocation "particularly disappointing in light of the fact that the allocation was delayed well into the planting season, forcing growers to make decisions about hiring, business operations and land use without any certainty of water resources."

Water supply updates will be posted at www.usbr.gov/mp/cvp-water/index.html.

(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.