Valley farmers lose little water to river restoration

July 6, 2011 

East Valley farmers this year probably will lose very little if any water for the San Joaquin River restoration because of the wet winter, federal officials estimate.

For the last few months, excess water from snowmelt has been keeping the river flowing, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said. There has been no need to use water reserved for irrigation.

Last year, farmers gave up more than 200,000 acre-feet of water for the restoration. This year, federal officials estimate farm water will be tapped, at most, for about 20,000 acre-feet, depending on how much more snowmelt there is this summer.

An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons or a 12- to 18-month supply of water for an average Valley family.

Officials hope to capture all the farm water downstream at the Mendota Pool on the Valley's west side and return it to farmers. Last year, officials returned about 43,000 acre-feet of water to farmers.

The restoration project began in October 2009 with water releases to help officials prepare for re-establishing a long-dead salmon fishery late next year.

The restoration is the result of a 2006 lawsuit settlement to reconnect the dried river with the Pacific Ocean.

Representatives of 15,000 farmers along the Valley's east side agreed to give up some irrigation for the restoration. The settlement also said federal officials would capture some of the restoration water downstream and return as much as possible to the farmers.

The reporter can be reached at mgrossi@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6316.

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