Bureau Expects Supply Challenge For CVP In 2014
Their message may not have been as dramatic as that left recently with western San Joaquin Valley water users but top regional U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials made it clear July 15 that the 2013-14 Central Valley Project water year is likely to be filled with operational and water supply challenges.
“Nothing is easy, let me tell you,” Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo told Friant Water Authority directors and district managers during a special meeting in Visalia.
It was the latest in a series of sessions that the Mid-Pacific Region’s management has held with CVP contractors and environmental organizations to spotlight the bigger water supply picture and its potential pitfalls going into the new water year October 1.
Murillo stressed that Bureau statements on water supply challenges following a second straight below-average precipitation and supply year should not be interpreted as any sort of forecast of conditions that might be experienced in the spring and summer of 2014.
A similar informational session June 17 in the Westlands Water District resulted in widely circulated and published reports from Westlands Manager Tom Birmingham that the CVP’s users in the San Luis Unit should expect no water to be made available unless 2013’s fall months and January 2014 turn out to be very wet. It was reported by the Fresno Bee that Bureau officials stopped short of making such a statement.
“The initial declaration in February is probably going to be real low,” Murillo told Friant’s directors after ticking off a list of water supply, water quality, endangered species and other environmental conditions Reclamation must consider in making allocations.
“If we have a replay of this year, it could really be a challenge,” he said, when asked if the San Joaquin River exchange water supply that makes Friant water diversions possible might be affected. “I think we just have to go week to week, month to month in the spring.” Murillo indicated that at this time it does not appear the exchange supplies will be affected but that it is too soon to tell.
Four western San Joaquin Valley agencies that are successors to holders of the most historic San Joaquin River water rights are known as the Exchange Contractors since those agencies are supplied with a substitute supply of water pumped and delivered from the Delta. In exchange, Friant Division contractors receive and distribute water diverted at Friant Dam. If the Bureau were unable to deliver the substitute Delta water, the Exchange Contractors would be entitled to receive their supply from the San Joaquin River for diversion into their agencies’ canals near Mendota and Dos Palos. That has never occurred.
Murillo said a number of possible operational strategies and comments were presented at earlier meetings and are being analyzed and circulated. Friant district leaders were invited to do the same.
“It is important for us to have an idea what everyone else is thinking,” Murillo said. “We will continue to be transparent as we move through this effort.” Murillo said suggestions are being analyzed to determine if they would provide further water supply yield or environmental benefits, as well as whether or not they would provide a benefit this year. The various comments and suggestions will soon be prioritized and no more than about 10 will undergo further consideration this year.
WET TO DRY
Ron Milligan, CVP Operations Office Manager, said after several big storms in November and December, “Things were looking like we were off to a pretty good start to the water year.” Then came high fall flows that stirred up sediment as well as fears among fishery officials that Delta smelt were too close to the export pumps and could be lost. As a result, what he termed “significant curtailments of pumping” resulted. It has been reported that 800,000 acre-feet of Delta water was allowed to flow into the ocean. Record dry conditions followed from January through May. San Luis Reservoir storage is plunging toward a possible August low point of 200,000 acre-feet or less.
Murillo said a complex formula, one that involves “an element of professional judgment,” is used to determine allowable incidental take of protected species.
Although other “Delta stressor” conditions are being more and more considered, Murillo said that when Delta smelt are threatened, “The only knob that can be turned is related to State Water Project or CVP operations. All we’ve got is the pumping and try to ride this out and hope the Delta smelt move to some other part of the Delta.”
“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that we’re going to see some wet weather,” Milligan said.