A plentiful winter of rain and snowfall in the mountains east of Fresno is creating the potential for generating more water than the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can store behind Friant Dam. So the city of Fresno is poised to take advantage of flood-control releases at a deep discount, compared to the city’s normal allocation of Millerton Lake water this spring.
The Fresno City Council on Thursday approved an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation to buy flood flow releases from Millerton Lake starting March 1. The city’s current one-year contract with the bureau ends Feb. 28, said Thomas Esqueda, the city’s director of public utilities.
Under its federal water contracts, Fresno has an annual allocation of Class 1 water, which Esqueda described as “the top of the food chain” of water from Millerton Lake. The contract also gives the city access to additional classes of water, such as flood releases that cannot be stored behind Friant Dam because of the volume of rain and snow falling in the San Joaquin River watershed.
“This year may be one of the first in many, many years when there may be (flood releases) available,” Esqueda said.
We’ll take (water) into Leaky Acres, we’ll take it into some of the
Thomas Esqueda, Fresno director of public utilities
Class 1 water is the first 800,000 acre-feet of water coming down the San Joaquin River each year; it is generally the supply that can be managed annually through storage management and delivered at the convenience of the water contractor.
The city’s normal Class 1 water is priced at about $100 per acre-foot, Esqueda said, compared to the flood flow releases, which cost about $30 per acre-foot. “So this is water that comes very inexpensive, and we want to take advantage of those types of releases,” he said. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons – enough to submerge a football field under water a foot deep.
Because somuch rain and snow has fallen this winter, the city may yet be able to capture some flood flows under its current contract with the bureau.
No one knows how much water could be made available through flood releases. If and when the bureau offers the water, the city’s plan is to route it to basins where it will be allowed to percolate into the ground and recharge an aquifer that has been depleted by years of groundwater pumping.
“We’ll take it into Leaky Acres; we’ll take it into some of the (Fresno Irrigation District) recharge basins,” Esqueda said. “Any hole we can find, we’re going to put it in.”
The city’s normal allotment of federal Class 1 water is about 60,000 acre-feet, Esqueda said. Last year, the city received about 65,000 acre-feet.
This year, the bureau is also offering “unlimited” releases at the bargain price of $10 per acre-foot, Esqueda said, “so we’re scrambling right now to take that $10 water. This year we could be pushing 170,000 or 180,000 acre-feet.”
Some of that could be diverted into local water-recharge basins, while some could be routed down canals and sold to other water users.