Westside farmers got dismal news Friday when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a 5 percent water allocation for 2016.
Farmers say the paltry allocation will mean thousands of acres in one of the nation’s most productive farming regions will continue to be fallowed.
“This is going to hurt,” said Sal Parra, a westside grower who farms various crops. “We have already fallowed about 5,000 acres and cut back our workers’ hours. It’s like we can’t get ahead.”
The San Joaquin Valley, especially the westside, has been hit especially hard by a four-year drought. In the sprawling Westlands Water District, officials say at least 200,000 acres will not be farmed because of a lack of water.
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Over the last two years, farmers in Westlands have received a zero water allocation from the Central Valley Project – the system that supplies water to farmers from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The bureau also announced that CVP contractors north of the delta will receive 100 percent allocations, and the Friant division contractors will receive 30 percent of their water.
The last time westside farmers received a 100 percent allocation was 2006.
“Today’s announcement of a 5 percent water allocation for Fresno County’s westside federal water contractors and a 30 percent allocation for Friant users is despicable,” said Ryan Jacobsen, chief executive officer of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. “It illustrates the degree of mismanagement and inconsistency by the federal government in operating the Central Valley Project.”
Bureau officials said Friday that the allocation is based on a cautious estimate of the amount of water available for delivery to Central Valley Project users.
As of March 30, the California Department of Water Resources said the statewide average snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada was 24.4 inches, compared to two inches on that date last year. Rainfall is currently at 125 percent of the historical average. While conditions have greatly improved, Gov. Jerry Brown’s Emergency Drought Proclamation, issued Jan. 17, 2014, remains in effect.
“While we are on track for a near-average precipitation season this year, the ongoing and residual impacts of the multiyear drought continue, “ said Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo.
He acknowledged the lasting effect of the drought will be felt the most on the westside of the central San Joaquin Valley.
Johnny Amaral, deputy general manager of Westlands, called the allocation “ridiculous,” saying the environmental restrictions that dictate pumping of water south of the Delta have created a nightmare for Valley farmers.
The restrictions are put in place to protect certain species of fish, including the delta smelt.
“The fact is, if they can’t move water through the delta, this region will never recover,” Amaral said.
Environmental advocates say the restrictions are in place for good reason.
“We are talking about protecting the Delta and thousands of fishing jobs,” said Doug Obegi, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The fish need water. It is an important state priority.”