Feds start 2021 with light water supply for Valley farmers

Valley farmers had low expectations heading into the spring. Federal water authorities likely met them, to say the least.
An aerial view of the path of the proposed tunnels in the Delta on November 1, 2017. Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources

Valley farmers had low expectations heading into the spring. Federal water authorities likely met them, to say the least.

Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced its first water allocations for farmers and water users along the Central Valley Project.


Light snowpack is, once again, the culprit, Federal officials said.

“Although we had a couple of precipitation-packed storms in January and early February, we are still well below normal for precipitation and snowfall this year,” said Bureau region director Ernest Conant. “We will monitor the hydrology as the water year progresses and continue to look for opportunities for operational flexibility.”

Farm water users on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley, including Westlands Water District, are slated to receive 5 percent of their contracted water amount, the Bureau announced.

“Today’s announcement is no surprise given current hydrologic conditions and regulations that restrict operations of the Central Valley Project, but it is devastating nonetheless for farmers and communities across the region that rely on water from the CVP and jobs created by irrigated agriculture,” said Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham in a statement.

Meanwhile, municipal and industrial water users in the same region will see 55 percent of their historic use of water set aside for 2021 to start.

In the Friant division of the Central Valley Project, Class 1 contractors are set to receive a 20 percent water allocation.

Class 1 Friant water is dubbed the first 800,000 acre-feet of available water supply

Class 2 is the next amount of available water supply up to 1.4 million acre-feet. Class 2 is slated to receive zero percent of their contracted amount of water, the Bureau announced.

William Bourdeau, chairman of the California Water Alliance couldn’t hold back his dismay at Tuesday’s announcement.

“Amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, when America has come to rely on Valley farmers more than ever to stay fed, it’s beyond disheartening to have our livelihoods hamstrung and put our food supply at risk,” Bourdeau told The Sun.

“And this is to say nothing of the countless jobs that will be lost as a result of limited farm production in our region.”

Tuesday’s announcement also served as a reminder for the need for long-range, collaborative planning of water resources, as argued by one Central Valley Project-centric water authority.

“The last decade – in which California experienced the greatest drought in nearly 1,200 years between a couple of years of intense rainfall and flooding – continues to reinforce that California’s rainfall and snowpack patterns are changing and that we must shift to multi-year water management strategies to meet the diverse needs of the communities and ecosystems served by the Authority’s member agencies,” said San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority chief Federico Barajas.

“The challenge before us demands long-term and sustainable solutions – we must invest in the maintenance, improvement and restoration of our critical infrastructure that serves as the backbone of California, we must increase our ability to store water during those flood years for the droughts we know will come, and we must improve the operational flexibility of our system so that vital water transfers are not being unreasonably delayed by bureaucratic hurdles.”

Uncertainty over long-term water supply prompts calls for clarity

While Tuesday’s announcement was less-than-ideal, it comes amid a push by the Biden administration to review a Trump-era water boost for the Central Valley in the form of recently-issued environmental rules.

The environmental rules, known as biological opinions, are now among a litany of regulations set for a gleaning by Biden officials, indicating the potential for overhaul or elimination.

That uncertainty over the future of water regulations for Federally-managed water prompted a call for action from California’s Republican delegation in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

In a letter sent to the acting Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, the members of Congress – led by Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) – called for a confab to discuss ongoing litigation related to the updated biological opinions and water allocations through the Central Valley Project.

“As a lifelong farmer, I know firsthand just how important reliable water supply is to California farmers, families, and communities.” said Valadao in a statement. “The unnecessary review and potential reversal of these important biological opinions would jeopardize water supply to the Central Valley and would have detrimental, long-lasting effects on our local economies. The biological opinions were updated with the most accurate data and were subject to multiple peer-reviews by experts.

“I urge the Biden Administration to keep these science-based biological opinions intact, allowing our communities to continue feeding America.”

Read the letter

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