West­side grow­ers get short­changed on wa­ter

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY JOSE GU­TIER­REZ Jose Gu­tier­rez is a reg­is­tered civil en­gi­neer and is the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of West­lands Wa­ter Dis­trict.

In Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, Cal­i­for­nia was blessed by a se­ries of storms, some with enough pre­cip­i­ta­tion to be clas­si­fied as at­mo­spheric rivers, that will serve as wa­ter sup­ply for the state dur­ing the dry sea­son. In­deed, these storms pro­duced enough snow that on Feb. 19, the wa­ter con­tent in the Sierra was not only in ex­cess of 100 per­cent of the long-term av­er­age for that date, but was in ex­cess of 100 per­cent of the long-term av­er­age for April 1. In ad­di­tion, on that date stor­age in all Cen­tral Val­ley Project reser­voirs was near or more than 100 per­cent of the long-term av­er­age for the date.

But still, on Feb. 20, the U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion an­nounced that south-of-Delta farm­ers who rely on CVP wa­ter to ir­ri­gate their crops would re­ceive only 35 per­cent of their con­tract sup­plies. Many farm­ers, wa­ter agen­cies, and mem­bers of Congress asked, how could this be? The an­swer is sim­ple: rigid reg­u­la­tory con­straints im­posed on op­er­a­tions of the CVP pre­vented Recla­ma­tion from mak­ing a com­mon­sense wa­ter man­age­ment de­ci­sion. These are the same con­straints that have hand­cuffed the wa­ter de­liv­ery sys­tem since 2008.

This year the op­er­a­tional con­straints that pre­vented Recla­ma­tion from al­lo­cat­ing more wa­ter to south-of-Delta farm­ers were im­posed by the 2009 bi­o­log­i­cal opin­ion is­sued by the Na­tional Ma­rine Fish­eries Ser­vice to pro­tect anadro­mous fish. De­spite stor­age in Shasta Lake that on Feb. 19 was 104 per­cent of the long-term av­er­age, bi­ol­o­gists at NMFS in­sisted that Recla­ma­tion re­duce al­lo­ca­tions so Shasta Lake, based on a con­ser­va­tive fore­cast that as­sumed dry con­di­tions for the re­main­der of the year, would have suf­fi­cient wa­ter in stor­age to cre­ate a cold-wa­ter pool to pro­tect spawn­ing salmon in the Sacra­mento River be­low Shasta Dam.

As the wa­ter year pro­gresses, the al­lo­ca­tion for farm­ers south of the Delta will un­doubt­edly in­crease. But un­cer­tainty about how much wa­ter Recla­ma­tion will ul­ti­mately al­lo­cate makes it nearly im­pos­si­ble for farm­ers to ef­fi­ciently plan their farm­ing op­er­a­tions. In ad­di­tion, low ini­tial al­lo­ca­tions re­sult in farm­ers pump­ing more ground­wa­ter from an over­taxed ground­wa­ter basin early in the grow­ing sea­son. Any wa­ter man­ager will tell you that sound prin­ci­ples of con­junc­tive use de­mand that when sur­face wa­ter is plen­ti­ful, farm­ers should rely on sur­face wa­ter, rather than ground­wa­ter. But even in wet years, like this one, if Recla­ma­tion can­not al­lo­cate sur­face wa­ter, farm­ers will con­tinue to over­pump from the ground­wa­ter basin.

The low ini­tial al­lo­ca­tion, in a year that in mid-Fe­bru­ary was on course to end with pre­cip­i­ta­tion and runoff that is well above av­er­age, is fur­ther ev­i­dence that Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter sys­tem is not work­ing. For­tu­nately, both the fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments rec­og­nize this fact. Recla­ma­tion, work­ing with the United States Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice, NMFS, the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources and the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Fish and Wildlife, are reeval­u­at­ing con­straints im­posed by the ex­ist­ing bi­o­log­i­cal opin­ions. Rather than fo­cus­ing en­tirely on con­trol­ling one fac­tor, op­er­a­tions of the CVP and State Wa­ter Project, these agen­cies are de­vel­op­ing ac­tions that will ad­dress nu­mer­ous other fac­tors, in­clud­ing loss of spawn­ing and rear­ing habi­tat, pre­da­tion, un­screened di­ver­sions, and wa­ter qual­ity, that limit the abun­dance of Delta smelt and anadro­mous fish.

Un­like the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, the new ap­proaches to pro­tect­ing and en­hanc­ing fish abun­dance will ad­dress the many fac­tors that limit fish and have the greater po­ten­tial of ac­com­plish­ing their in­tended pur­pose than fo­cus­ing only on flow alone. And the new ap­proaches be­ing eval­u­ated have the po­ten­tial of restor­ing wa­ter sup­ply and re­li­a­bil­ity to farm­ers, busi­nesses, and res­i­dents in vir­tu­ally ev­ery re­gion of the state.

In the short-term, be­cause of wet hy­dro­logic con­di­tions, the al­lo­ca­tion for farm­ers served by the CVP will in­crease. But in the long-term, we must find bet­ter ways of man­ag­ing the sys­tem, to pro­vide bet­ter pro­tec­tion for fish and wildlife and an ad­e­quate, more re­li­able sup­ply of wa­ter for peo­ple.

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