Farmers Told to Expect no Water from Sacramento River

Posted in: Drought, United States Water News, Water Crisis
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Cloudy skies bring hopes of more water into the Feather River, seen here near the Thermailto Afterbay outlet in Oroville. Like the Central Valley Project, the State Water Project will have curtailed deliveries this year. Photo credit: Bill Husa — Enterprise-Record

Article courtesy of Paul Rogers | February 27, 2015 | ChicoER | Shared as educational material

In a clear indicator that California is descending into a fourth year of drought, the federal government Friday announced that the Central Valley Project — California’s largest water delivery system, with Lake Shasta and the Sacramento River as a cornerstone — will provide no water again this year to most Central Valley farmers and only 25 percent of the contracted amount to urban areas.

The announcement from the Bureau of Reclamation means that farmers in the California’s main agricultural region will fallow hundreds of thousands of acres, and heavily pump already depleted wells, perhaps faster than last year.

It also increases the likelihood of stricter conservation rules — including fines for excessive water use — this summer for millions of residents who receive water in Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

“Today’s picture is not a pretty one,” said David Murillo, regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Based on all indicators we are looking at a fourth year of drought.”

The State Water Project, which has Lake Oroville as a key reservoir, will release its final delivery expectations later. The California Department of Water Resources said a month ago that it would deliver 15 percent of contracted amounts, up from 5 percent the month before, but that number is likely to change.

The Central Valley Project was built starting in the 1930s. It moves water from Lake Shasta all the way to Bakersfield through a series of 20 dams, 500 miles of canals and huge pumps. In most years, the project provides nearly 90 percent of its water to farms. In dry years, cities receive priority over most farmers. Farmers, however, with the oldest claims to water, could receive up to 75 percent of their contracted amounts this year.

Meanwhile, urban water providers said Friday’s news means they will scramble to increase conservation, buy water from the few willing sellers, and will rely on heavier groundwater pumping to get through the year.

Most of California’s major cities have so far gotten by with only voluntary conservation rules, with no fines or water cops. That may well change now.

“Unless it pours rain in the next two months, we’re facing a long, dry, tough summer,” said Abby Figueroa, a spokeswoman for the East Bay MUD, which serves 1.3 million people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Figueroa said the district’s board will meet in April to discuss putting in place penalties for excessive water use, and mandatory limits on when people can water lawns. Some cities already limit lawn watering to only one day a week.


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