West-side farmers get to keep water they had stored away

The Fresno BeeJanuary 30, 2014 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will release 340,000 acre-feet of water in the San Luis Reservoir to west-side farmers for this growing season.

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

West San Joaquin Valley farmers don't have to worry about losing the 340,000 acre-feet of water they stored in San Luis Reservoir last year -- the federal government won't take it.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had been considering taking the water to fulfill obligations to other farm water contractors who have more senior rights to water. Bureau leaders Thursday told Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, that the water would not be used.

"The bureau's decision to honor their original promises will help ensure farmers and contractors who invested in drought reserve water supplies will have the certainty they need to plan for the coming year," Valadao said in a news release.

West-siders had spent $150 million on water last year as a hedge against a dry year. California is enduring a third year of drought, and water is scarce. Federal officials were considering all options to honor high-priority contracts with land owners who exchanged their San Joaquin River water for Northern California water decades ago.

Joined by Valley Republican Reps. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Devin Nunes of Tulare, as well as two Democrats -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno -- lawmakers urged federal leaders not to redirect the water. They succeeded in stopping the effort at San Luis Reservoir on the west side.

"By presenting a united, bipartisan front, we ensured that the Valley's concerns were heard loud and clear by the administration," said Costa.

But Bureau leaders also had been considering seizing water now in Millerton Lake, another part of the federal Central Valley Project. No announcement has been made on that water.

West-side farmers in districts such as Westlands Water District are expecting a zero allocation from the bureau late in February. Farmers getting water from Millerton may also wind up with a zero allocation.

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

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