Agriculture · Highlight

Bureau of Reclamation bumps westside water allocation to 70 percent

The Bureau of Reclamation updated its 2019 allocation for the Central Valley Project South-of-Delta, increasing the westside water allocation to 70 percent of the contract total.

“The storms experienced in the Central Valley during the past week are unusual this late in the year, bringing the month’s precipitation to over twice its average,” said Mid-Pacific Regional Director Ernest Conant in a statement. “The late storms provided an added boost to the already above average precipitation for 2019. Snowpack throughout the state is still about 150% of average for this time of year.”

This is the third increase of 2019 for the agricultural water service contractors. The allocation was raised from 35 percent to 55 percent in March and to 65 percent in April.

Allocations for South-of-Delta municipal and industrial contractor were also increased to 95 percent of their historic use, a 15 percent increase from April.

The Westlands Water District released a statement responding to the updated allocation, saying “It is difficult to comprehend why the allocation remains below 100 percent,” citing continued wet hydrologic conditions and above average Central Valley Project reservoir storage.

Westlands is the largest agricultural water district in the United States and provides water to 700 family-owned farms. It is comprised of more than 1,000 square miles of farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties.

“The 2019 water year will go down as one of the wettest years on record,” said Thomas Birmingham, Westlands’ general manager, in a statement. “Reclamation’s inability to provide south-of-Delta CVP water service contractors with full contract supplies is further evidence of the draconian impact ineffective regulations have had on water supplies for people. These regulations, theoretically intended to protect at-risk fish species, have strangled water supplies while continuously failing to provide effective protection for the species – all of which have continued to decline.”

Birmingham said the water allocation decision affects businesses and communities in the Central Valley, determining how much land farmers can plant, how many people the farms employ and how much consumers will pay for food.

Reclamation said the wet conditions in 2019 have allowed for full allocations for most Central Valley Project water users, which is a change from previous years. Threatened and endangered species’ requirements, storage limitations and lost conveyance capacity from land subsidence have been historical challenges for Reclamation’s ability to provide higher allocations.

“I know that Reclamation staff understands the consequences of the decisions they make,” Birmingham said. “This understanding is demonstrated by their diligent work to revise biological opinions that have produced no tangible benefits for at-risk fish species and have decimated its ability to supply water. The District hopes its colleagues in other federal and state agencies understand and consider the effects on people caused by their exercise of discretion.”

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, with a focus on the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.