Farm water leaders ready for bad news next month

The Fresno BeeJanuary 24, 2014 

Federal water leaders Friday painted a dire picture for California's water managers -- key reservoirs down to 58% of average and Sierra watersheds with less than 15% of expected rain and snow at this point.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made a presentation at the annual regional water-users gathering in Reno. After two below-average winters and a record-setting dry spell this winter, conservation was the urgent message.

Central Valley Project water allocations for summer won't be announced until late February, but farm water contractors on the San Joaquin Valley's west side already expect a zero allocation.

CVP water pumped from Northern California rivers is used to irrigate more than 2 million west-side acres. Widespread groundwater pumping and land fallowing are expected this year.

"This will be a reality check for all of us," said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, representing west-side contractors such as Westlands Water District. "This dry cycle is exposing the deficiencies in water system infrastructure that has not been improved in many years."

On the Valley's east side, Millerton Lake allotments to 15,000 growers also could fall to zero. Federal leaders could be forced to send a lot of Millerton water downstream to west-side landowners who have historic rights to the San Joaquin River.

Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Authority, representing the east-side growers, said federal leaders soon will have some tough decisions about how to satisfy water needs.

"We're just hoping we can all work together so everyone can get some water into the system," said Jacobsma.

In a prepared statement issued Friday, bureau regional director David Murillo said state and federal drought managers are working together to manage both of California's major water projects -- the federal CVP and the State Water Project. Government agencies must balance the needs for nature, water quality and users.

Murillo said: "Since 2014 is developing into a critically dry water year, (the bureau of) reclamation must be extremely cautious as we begin determining our initial allocation numbers for CVP contractors."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6316, or @markgrossi on Twitter.

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