The drought is certainly not over, but the federal Bureau of Reclamation was optimistic enough to offer water suppliers in the Valley 30 percent of their contract allocations this year.
And several water agency officials believe more could be coming as well.
For the past two years, the allocation has been zero, which affects the amount of water for farming and urban interests on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The city of Fresno, which would get 60,000 acre-feet with a 100 percent allocation, stands to be a significant beneficiary of the 30 percent allocation – about 18,000 acre-feet. The cities of Orange Cove and Lindsay, along with Madera County, are the other communities that will benefit.
Thomas Esqueda, Fresno’s director of public utilities, said the city will use the supply in its two surface-water treatment plants and to add to recharge basins.
“While we are pleased to have received this important allocation of water, we believe it is important to remind citizens that the governor’s emergency drought restrictions will remain in effect through October 2016, so we must continue to reduce our water consumption even with this water-supply allocation,” he said.
The Friant Division’s largest agricultural users in the Valley are Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, Madera Irrigation District, Chowchilla Water District, Delano-Earlimart Irrigation District, Tulare Irrigation District and Lower Tule River Irrigation District.
In 2013, the Bureau of Reclamation allocated 65 percent of Class 1 water to its contractors, said Steve Ottemoeller, water resources manager for the Friant Water Authority, which represents about a dozen Friant water contractors.
30 percentAllocation of water from Millerton Lake after two years of zero allocations
The news from the federal Bureau of Reclamation is encouraging, and Ottemoeller said he expects greater allocations in the coming months, possibly deliveries of 75 to 80 percent or more this year.
The amount of water available for Class 1 users is 240,000 acre-feet. An additional 100,000 acre-feet will be available from Class 2 supplies.
(Class 1 water is a supply that can be delivered to the contractor when needed. Class 2 water is sent to contractors when water is coming into reservoirs at above-average rates and has to be be released to avoid a dam’s overflow.)
“It’s encouraging that we have gotten something and we believe there is more in the system in the snowpack and upstream reservoirs,” he said.
The 30 percent allocation is water that will be delivered this year even if the rest of the season is dry, Ottemoeller said.
“The Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement is essentially a floor,” he said. “We expect there will be more because that’s a number that works even if things go dry from here on.”
Fresno Irrigation District will benefit from Class 2 supplies. In a 100 percent allocation, the district gets 75,000 acre-feet.
The district will get a portion of that Class 2 water and more is expected, said Gary Serrato. He expects about 5,200 acre-feet of water for his district.
Shane Hunt, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, said forecasts of water runoff from the upper San Joaquin River, combined with the current storage in Millerton Lake, allowed the district to offer an allocation to Friant contractors.
Based on projected inflows into Millerton Lake from snowmelt between April and July, Friant contractors also can begin scheduling delivery of an additional 100,000 acre-feet of water under what is called an “uncontrolled season” scenario, or Class 2 supplies, Hunt said.
The uncontrolled season water must be removed from the reservoir in the near future to avert flood concerns. Availability of the uncontrolled season supplies will be reassessed weekly and could be discontinued.
Also, the bureau made an allocation of 261,400 acre-feet to the San Joaquin River Restoration Program for the rest of 2016 based on the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement, Hunt said.
In a statement, the reclamation bureau said it “anticipates making the initial allocation announcement for the entire Central Valley Project later this month after the full effect of storm systems that moved through Northern California earlier in March are taken into account.”