Water allocations tight despite full reservoirs

OROVILLE, Calif. – Water supplies will be tight for many California growers, even as persistent rain and snow in the past month has kept reservoirs flush with supplies.

The state Department of Water Resources conducted its fourth snow survey last week and found that water content in mountain snowpack was still only 55 percent of average for this point in the season.

As a result, the department announced it will only deliver half the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet of project water requested by the 29 agencies that distribute its water to cities and nearly 1 million acres of farmland.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the Central Valley Project, is so far holding to its February prediction that it will only deliver 30 percent of requested water to agricultural contractors north and south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Municipal and industrial water users as well as wildlife refuges are set to receive 75 percent, although bureau officials are still reviewing data from California’s latest snow survey and could issue new allocation amounts soon, spokesman Pete Lucero said.

“Right now, the allocations are what they are,” Lucero said.

The picture is somewhat improved for project water users in the Klamath Basin, where Reclamation officials established an operations plan in which they’ll get an estimated 310,000 acre-feet of water for the 2012 season, said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.

That’s more than 75 percent of the estimated demand of 400,000 acre-feet, Addington said. And growers will likely be able to tap into ground water supplies later in the season to make up part of the difference, he said.

“The good news is it was dire three weeks ago, but it’s just been incredible,” Addington said. “The accumulation of precipitation we’ve gotten over the last three weeks has really made it much more of a manageable situation up here.”

The allocations come after a wet March helped quench the thirsts of fields, orchards and rangelands throughout the Golden State and the Klamath Basin which had suffered through the dry winter. More rain was expected in northern areas this week.

The precipitation helped maintain levels in reservoirs that were filled to the brim last year after a wet winter and spring. Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s principal reservoir, was at 109 percent of average for the date on April 9, according to the DWR’s California Data Exchange Center.

Altogether, California’s elaborate system of state and federal reservoirs were holding nearly 108 percent of their normal amounts for the date as of April 9, the data center reported.

However, a 50 percent allocation is not severely low, state officials argue. Wet conditions last year allowed the DWR to deliver 80 percent of the water requested last year, and deliveries have been as low as 35 percent in 2008, a news release stated.

Contractors haven’t received a 100 percent allocation since 2006.


Source: Capital Press