Oroville Mercury-Register

Storms improve initial federal water allocation­s

- By John Antczak

LOS ANGELES >> After early winter storms put a dent in California’s drought, officials Wednesday cautiously announced a jump in initial allocation­s of federally controlled water to agricultur­al, municipal and industrial users of the Central Valley Project system.

Nine atmospheri­c river storms from late December into January greatly improved the water supply outlook following three years of record drought, U.S. Bureau of Reclamatio­n Regional Director Ernest Conant said in an online briefing.

Major Central Valley Project reservoirs that were dwindling have since been rising, and the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a key source of water when it melts, is well above average.

“However, we’re all too aware of uncertaint­ies that exist and how rapidly conditions in California can change,” Conant said. “And not all river basins were equally improved, highlighti­ng the need that late winter and early spring rain and snow is still needed.”

The Central Valley Project is a federally operated system of dams, reservoirs and canals. It’s one of two major water systems California relies on for agricultur­e, drinking water and the environmen­t. The other system is run by the state.

More than 250 agencies — mostly irrigation districts — contract with the federal government for certain amounts of water each year, and the Bureau of Reclamatio­n announces each February how much of those contracts can be filled. Updates follow as conditions change.

Yearly changes

Two years ago, farmers in the state’s major agricultur­al region started with 5% of their allocation and ended at 0% as drought intensifie­d. A year ago, the bureau announced that it would not deliver any water to those farmers, and water for other uses including drinking and industrial purposes was allocated at 25%.

This year, contractor­s serving many farms will get 35% of their contracted supplies and those that hold socalled senior water rights will get 100%, as will wildlife refuges.

Municipal and industrial contractor­s have been allocated 75% of their historic use or public health and safety needs, whichever is greater.

Jose Gutierrez, interim general manager of the Westlands Water District — the nation’s largest agricultur­al water district — said he was grateful for the 35% allocation and hoped that precipitat­ion would continue to fall.

“The past two years of 0% resulted in over 223,000 acres (90,245 hectares), approximat­ely 36% of the District’s farmland, being fallowed in Westlands,” Gutierrez said in a statement.

“An adequate and reliable supply of surface water is critical to the viability of the communitie­s and farms in the San Joaquin Valley and their ability to feed the world,” he said.

The federal outlook is in line with the California Department of Water Resources, which said Wednesday it now expects the State Water Project to deliver 35% of requested water to 29 public water agencies, an increase from the 30% it forecast in January.

The water supply estimates were announced as forecaster­s blanketed the state with blizzard and winter storm warnings following several weeks of a largely dry February.

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