Media call: Reclamation officials brief reporters on the Central Valley Project allocation

Earlier today, officials with the Bureau of Reclamation held a media call to brief reporters on the initial Central Valley Project allocation.  Here is what they had to say.

DAVID MURILLO, Regional Director for Mid-Pacific Region, started off …

Today’s picture is not a pretty one. Based on all indicators, we’re looking at fourth year of drought, and our initial allocation reflects that reality. The Mid Pacific Region started off the water year with about 3 million acre-feet of carryover storage in six key CVP reservoirs, and those six reservoirs are Shasta, Trinity, Folsom, Millerton, New Melones, and the federal share of San Luis Reservoir.

Snowpack and precipitation in the Sierra Nevada are historically low and the snow water content statewide stands at 19% of average for this time of year. Without heavy precipitation over the next few months, NOAA forecasts extreme drought conditions continuing in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

In short, we’re dealing with a critical dry year for contractor water allocations. Unfortunately many agricultural water service contractors may be looking at a second year of receiving no water from the Central Valley Project, an unprecedented situation.  In addition, there will be less water made available from the CVP for urban uses, though we do anticipate having adequate supplies to meet health and safety needs for these water users.

The rain events in December were encouraging, but the persistent dry weather for the first two months of this year underscores our need to plan for another critical year of drought. We have been working closely for months with our state and federal agency partners to try and minimize impacts and will continue to do so.

PABLO ARROYAVE, Deputy Regional Director for the Mid-Pacific Region

Our initial CVP allocations are primarily based on reservoir storage levels and DWR’s February 2015 90% runoff forecast, and that forecast indicates that we are squarely in a critically dry water year type for both the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley. Based on low forecasted inflows into Shasta Lake, which is the state’s largest reservoir, this year we’ll continue what started last year as a Shasta critical year. A Shasta critical year designation is what determines the maximum contract quantities for many of our senior water rights holders and wildlife refuges within the Central Valley.

The key point here is I will be focusing on our CVP allocations for our water service contractors. Our senior water rights holders that I just described, over half of the contracts that Reclamation has in the CVP are for those senior water rights contractors and those water users, those farmers in the Sac Valley and the San Joaquin Valley will receive water in 2015, just at a reduced quantity per their contract entitlements.

This is our initial allocation based on what we know today. We certainly hope the conditions improve and hydrology shifts a little closer to average or above-average for the next few months, and we will be updating everyone as soon as there is cause to update at any point in the next several months.

I’m going to focus on our initial allocations for our water service contractors. For our north of Delta agricultural water service contractors, their initial allocation is 0% of their contract supply. For our municipal and industrial service contractors north of the Delta, their initial allocation allows for enough water to meet their health and safety needs, or at least 25% of their historic use which ever is greater.

For south of Delta water service contractors, and this focuses on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, the initial allocation for those contractors is 0% of their contract quantity. For the M&I water service contractors south of the Delta, initial allocation is enough water to meet their health and safety needs, or at least 25% of their historic use, whichever is greater.

For our Friant division contractors that are served out of the upper San Joaquin and Millerton Reservoir, our initial water supply allocation to those users is 0% of Class 1 and Class 2 water. Reclamation will be working with the Friant contractors to determine the amount of available water that is needed to meet their health and safety needs within the Friant area.

For our eastside water service contractors that are served out of New Melones Reservoir, initial allocation is 0% of their contract quantity due to a lack of available CVP supplies out of New Melones.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Ron Mulligan, Operations Chief, who can provide additional context.

RON MILLIGAN, Operations Manager for the Central Valley Project

Just to give a little flavor for the basis of the allocation, as Pablo said, this is based on February 1st projected runoff estimates from the Department of Water Resources and primarily driven by the February 1st runoff forecasts of the snowpack.

As we progressed through the month, we’ve accumulated probably less than average snow for the month of February, so we anticipate unfortunately that the March 1st snowpack surveys are going to be even less fruitful as they were in February.  We did get a good rainstorm at the beginning of February but we’ve been dry for the most part since then.

We’re tracking these reservoir levels pretty closely as well as the base flow inflows off the mountains, so it’s not looking as good as it did last year where we saw a little bit of recovery in the February March time frame. When we did this initial allocation a year ago, we at least had a fairly wet February behind us, and we certainly don’t have that today. So this allocation announcement, probably a little less water availability then we saw a year ago.

Discussion highlights

The call was then opened up for questions.

First question was about the reaction in the agricultural community. They point out that in the last big drought, by 1992, Shasta Lake levels were similar to now, yet south of Delta ag contractors got 25% of their contracted amounts, as compared to 0%. Is that true? If so, why?

Ron Mulligan answers:

Although there are some similarities to some of the storage levels and the prolonged nature of dry periods between what we’re seeing here recently and the drought of the late 80s and early 90s, there are some differences. One of those is that I think the snowpack in a lot of our forecasted allocation work is based on projected runoff, and what we’ve have seen, although a snapshot in time about storage compared to 1992 right now may be similar but I think that the projected runoff from the limited snowpack is certainly going to play into this. We think it could be more severe.

Secondly, although the drought is significant, certainly in 1992 we had fewer people in the state of California, and that’s not just southern California, that’s probably also in the Sac Valley, so there are a few more demands in the Sacramento Valley from an urban stance that take up some quantities of water. The State Water Project is a little more built out than it was at that time.

And in fact, there are a few more regulatory requirements today than we had back in 1992, and taking it all into consideration though, back in 1992 a typical allocation for ag water service contractors both north and south of the Delta was 100%, so if by some measures, you might say well gee, if they had 25% allocation at that time, then 75% of the problem was drought, maybe a little less water is available because of the regulatory requirements of over 20 years, but we’re really seeing a significant drought sequence right now, and that’s what’s driving the severe nature of this announcement.

What does this announcement mean for the Sacramento Valley settlement contractors?

Pablo Arroyave answers:

What it means is that it’s basically the same situation we were in last year. We are acknowledging that the Shasta critical year identifies a contract maximum in that situation and that is 75% of their contract supply. The key, as it was last year, will be working very closely with all of our senior water rights holders on their demand patterns to allow us to deliver as much water as possible under those contracts.

David Murillo adds:

The contract amount is 75% of whatever the contract amount is. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what they get at the beginning of this water year. We’re working with them to try and identify what that water volume is and then what we do, the remainder of the year, we work with them to see how they can schedule the water and see how conditions either improve or not, and work our way up to that 75%. That’s what we did last year, so it’s going to be similar this year.

When you look at the reservoir levels this year, particularly in Shasta and San Luis, this year versus last year, this year is in much better shape. Last year, Shasta was at 53% of average, this year it’s at 79%, San Luis is at 74% of average and San Luis was at 39% last year, so the reservoirs are significantly better than last year … ?

David Murillo answers:

That’s a good question, because I think that’s what people look at.  They take a look at what the reservoir levels are, they say there’s water available there, so why can’t you just bring the water across. What we do is we look at it holistically, so we take a look at what is in the reservoirs themselves and we couple that with what the snowpack is and what the runoff forecast is going to be, and then you add those all together and you come out with a volume of water and that’s how you come out with the allocations.

The unfortunate thing about this year is yeah, if you look at the number of reservoirs we talked about today, the volume of water we have in there to date is more than what we had last year, but if you take a look at the snowpack, it’s not as good, and you take a look at the runoff forecast, that’s not looking as good either, so you couple those together, and that’s why you come out with the numbers that we have.


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