Reclamation Will Begin To Drain Away Friant’s CVP Water on Thursday


May 13, 2014



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Reclamation Will Begin To Drain Away Friant’s CVP Water on Thursday

What may well be the darkest and most frustrating day in the eastern San Joaquin Valley’s long and complicated water history will unfold Thursday (May 15). On that day, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will begin supplying downstream historic water rights holders with water from Millerton Lake that otherwise might have gone toward saving permanent plantings throughout the Central Valley Project’s parched Friant Division.
USBR announced today that it is “unable” to meet its obligation to provide substitute water to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors – despite over 200,000 acre-feet of Central Valley Project water in storage in San Luis Reservoir and increased storage at Shasta. USBR has also decided to use some of its supplies for south-of-Delta wildlife refuges, which primarily benefit migratory waterfowl like ducks, rather than supplying it to the Exchange Contractors. Refuges are to receive 178,000 acre-feet, and Reclamation estimates that it will provide the Exchange Contractors with 529,000 acre-feet from April through October using a combination of the San Joaquin River supplies and CVP water. The Bureau left the Friant Division’s allocation at zero.
Reclamation’s decision not to use substitute water to serve the Exchange Contractors has been anticipated as a real possibility throughout as the past several months. Although there is sufficient water available for Reclamation to satisfy its obligations to the Exchange Contractors as required under its commitments to Friant, Reclamation has instead opted to make releases from the San Joaquin River, even though no such releases have ever been required in the Friant Division’s 70-year history.
What is so disappointing and frustrating to Friant Division contractors and users is that Reclamation does have enough water stored in Lake Shasta and San Luis Reservoir to meet the CVP’s obligation to provide the Exchange Contractors with the substitute supply, despite the severe drought, and there is sufficient water in the CVP to make Friant’s deliveries through the Friant-Kern and Madera canals possible. Despite repeated pleas from the Friant Water Authority and its 21 member agencies to make use of the Shasta and San Luis water, Reclamation has allowed available supplies to be usurped by junior water users or earmarked for environmental purposes.
“This doesn’t need to happen,” said Ronald D. Jacobsma, Friant Water Authority General Manager. “Despite the dry conditions, enough water is stored to meet the Exchange Contractors’ supply needs, which in turn would make available a small amount of water for Friant’s Class 1 contractors and prevent at least $3 billion in economic losses from occurring in the citrus industry alone.”
Just as importantly, by providing available project water to meet Exchange Contractor obligations, Jacobsma said, “Reclamation would be doing what CVP agreements require – to recognize and respect the Exchange Contractors’ senior rights to the CVP’s supplies.”

Friant officials are also frustrated with the most recent operations plan issued by Reclamation. “It is very general and we’ve asked for more detail with respect to Shasta releases, including an analysis of Shasta’s cold water pool temperatures; Delta pumping; San Luis Reservoir operations; and Friant operations. We have no argument with the allocation to the Exchange Contractors if it were met by Reclamation from the other sources but the declaration to the Exchange Contractors is apparently being met by using all available water at Friant Dam and allowing others to use the water that is earmarked for the substitute supply.
“Thus, our growers and communities along the East Side are being left with a zero allocation,” Jacobsma said. “This is wholly unacceptable. Conditions have improved over the last two months but that has not translated into any water supplies for Friant users due to Reclamation’s policy decision not to provide the required substitute water supplies to the Exchange Contractors.” Lake Shasta storage continues to be enhanced by a few hundred thousand acre-feet of water that the National Marine Fisheries Service has stubbornly reserved under a biological opinion for cold water preservation to benefit Chinook salmon later this year. There is no evidence that Reclamation has ever requested consultation on its mandatory performance of the Exchange Contract, and thus, there is no basis for withholding this water under an inapplicable biological opinion.
Tens of thousands of acres of permanent plantings in the Friant Division, primarily citrus, will likely die this summer unless additional water supplies are made available soon, Jacobsma warned.
Friant districts are scrambling to try to mitigate the damages caused by the federal and state agencies’ actions by acquiring water through groundwater, transfer and exchange programs. “Those programs are expensive and supplies are difficult to come by,” said Jacobsma. “While helping some, those programs fall far short of the critical water needs we have targeted as being 200,000 acre-feet. That is the amount upon which Friant barely got by in 1977. This year is wetter but the regulatory environment has left Friant with no project water at all. It’s incomprehensible.”
Among the extremely limited supplies of water that have been arranged are a few thousand acre-feet of water left unused when the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s interim fishery flows were suspended in early February. That emergency “health and safety” supply is being delivered, through a banking arrangement with the Fresno Irrigation District, to four East Side communities with no municipal water supply except the Friant-Kern Canal – Orange Cove, Lindsay, Strathmore and Terra Bella. In addition, several thousand acre-feet of water is being made available to Friant agricultural districts that were able to pay the higher costs associated with temporarily banking the unreleased restoration water.
Groundwater pumping has become largely the source of water supplies in most Friant districts. The water table, already stressed by the previous two years of below average Friant Division water deliveries, will continue to decline.
Some areas served by the Friant-Kern Canal along the Sierra Nevada foothills have little or no groundwater availability but are fully developed farmland. It is in those areas that thousands of acres of permanent plantings stand to be lost this summer, along with huge economic impacts and losses of jobs. The Friant Division service area is among the world’s most productive agricultural regions and is heavily planted to permanent crops.
The San Joaquin River water destined to be released beginning Thursday has always been at the heart of the Friant Division’s supply. In the late 1930s, Reclamation signed an “exchange of waters” agreement enabling the agency to divert water at Friant Dam. In exchange, the Bureau agreed to provide the territory formerly within the massive ranch of the old cattle firm Miller & Lux with the substitute supply of water from the Delta, delivered through the Delta-Mendota Canal to Mendota Pool. The old Miller & Lux rights continue to exist and underlie four western San Joaquin Valley districts and canal companies known as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, as successors to Miller & Lux.

The Friant Water Authority is a public joint-powers agency representing 21 water agencies that deliver Central Valley Project water
from the San Joaquin River to more than one million acres along the southern San Joaquin Valley’s East Side.
The Authority operates and maintains the Friant-Kern Canal for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

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