Agriculture

Friant water officials dismayed over Federal water shuffle

A move by Federal water officials to release water from Friant Dam to accommodate the needs of competing, farm water users is prompting increased worries from Friant Water Authority over its ability to serve disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley.

Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it would begin releasing water from Millerton Lake to assist San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, those who have contracted with Federal water officials for Sacramento River water in exchange for historic rights to the Kings and San Joaquin River.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Friant Water Authority – which services the Friant-Kern Canal and a bevy of San Joaquin Valley communities from Madera to southern Kern counties – expressed disappointment at the decision by Federal officials.

“The water released from Friant Dam for the Exchange Contractors would have otherwise been available for delivery to Friant Division contractors in communities stretching from Madera and Chowchilla at the north to as far south as Bakersfield and Arvin in Kern County,” the water agency said in a statement.

They added that the release isn’t a mere triviality.

“The amount of water to be released could be as large as the total water supply needed to meet the needs of Los Angeles for an entire year,” Friant officials said.

They noted that the release could impact the water allocation to the Friant Division’s first class contractors. Federal officials set that allocation at 15 percent earlier in the water year.

“This summer it’s likely that dozens of small and rural or disadvantaged communities on the valley’s eastside will require emergency water supplies as their wells go dry when the aquifers they rely on are not recharged with Friant water,” the agency said.

At the center of the move, Friant alleges, is a legal controversy over how the Federal government is supposed to meet its obligation to the San Joaquin River exchange contractors and whether Federal officials are oversampling Friant water to meet those obligations.

“Nevertheless, the main reason for the need to release water from Friant Dam in the first place is that Delta supplies are increasingly unreliable,” the agency notes.

In their statement, Friant Water officials tendered a broader judgment on a bevy of on-going fronts related to the state’s water situation amid worsening drought.

“One day, Californians will wake up to realize that they didn’t sacrifice farms to save fish – they lost both.”

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.