MEDIA CALL: Bureau of Reclamation explains why the CVP allocation for south of Delta ag is only 65%

Reclamation officials say carryover storage is to blame, not endangered species regulations

Earlier today, the Bureau of Reclamation issued an updated water allocation for the Central Valley Project.  Most are receiving full supplies, with the exception of south of Delta M&I, who are getting 90%, and south of Delta agriculture, whose allocation is only 65%.  This afternoon, the Bureau of Reclamation held a media call to explain today’s announcement.  Here’s what they had to say.

FEDERICO BARAJAS, Deputy Regional Director, Mid Pacific Region

“The 2017 water year has been an extremely wet year, so we have taken a unique approach to announcing CVP water allocations this year that differs from our normal practice.  This year’s allocation is based on a three-staged approach.  Earlier last month, we notified the senior water right holders of their allocation.  Those included the refuge water contractors, the San Joaquin River exchange contractors, and the Sacramento River settlement contractors.  We indicated at that point that since this it’s not a Shasta critical year, they will receive 100% of their contract supply.  In addition to that, on the 28th of last month, we also rolled out an initial allocation announcement for those water contractors that rely directly on water from Folsom, New Melones, and Millerton reservoirs, and we provided them the initial allocation at that time.”

“So today, what we’re doing is we’re announcing the allocation for the remaining water service contractors, both north and south of Delta.  And before we go into the specifics of the announcement and the allocation for them, I want to paint a picture of where we are relative to this year’s hydrology.”

“At the beginning of the water year for this region, we were about 4.9 MAF of carryover storage in our main CVP reservoirs.  Today we’re around 9 MAF of storage.  That’s translating into about 108% of the 15-year average.  When you look at the rainfall numbers, you see that we’re at 199% of the seasonal average.  In reviewing the statewide snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada, we’re at 44” as of March 20th versus 25” during the same time last year, so there are clear indications of the type of abundance of the year that we have in front of us, and in light of that, we have been taking this unique approach to the allocation.”

“So with that in mind, I’m going to turn it over to Ron Milligan, the CVP Operations Manager, who is going to go through the specific numbers on the allocation.”

RON MILLIGAN, Central Valley Project Operations Manager

“Just as a point of review, there are a lot of different things that go into making the allocation for the Central Valley Project.   It’s a fairly broad geographically spread out project and we do look at a number of factors.  Federico talked about the hydrologic conditions – the rainfall so far, the snowpack, the reservoir levels as we currently see them. We also take into account what we think are going to be the snowmelt characteristics as well as additional rainfall we may still get at this point in the water year.  We take into account those things.”

“Now when we do this allocation at this point in the season, we are using runoff forecasts provided by the Department of Water Resources.  This is based on their March 1st projections and based on the March 1st forecasts.  And we apply to that some statistical means that use a drier set of [indistinguishable] for the rest of the year.  We then take that to evaluate what we think the water quality requirements are going to be in the Delta; for example, other water rights requirements that we may have, contractual obligations going forward, and any criteria or instream needs for listed or endangered species.  So taking those into account, we can cover the area that we have not yet made an initial allocation.”

“So starting north of the Delta, the agricultural water service contractors north of the Delta, we are going to allocate 100% of their contract supplies.  That also applies to the municipal and industrial water service contractors north of the Delta as well.  These allocations are being driven in great part by the storage conditions projected to be at Shasta Lake and cold water pool dynamics there, as well as just the overall streamflows that we anticipate to see in the late spring or early summer that will also help with meeting some of these needs along the mainstem of the Sacramento River.”

“When you get down to the Delta, we have an allocation to Contra Costa Water District, who gets their water directly from the Delta.  We are also allocating them 100% of their contract quantity.  Moving south of the Delta, for the ag water service contractors on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, in this forecast, we are allocating them at this point 65% of their contract supply.  At the same time, we’re allocating the municipal and industrial contractors south of the Delta for the CVP 90% of their contract quantity.”

“The 65% is a number that we do see some potential to get bigger as the season progresses.  Particularly as the snowmelt on the San Joaquin River tributaries in the Tulare Basin come in, there’s a very large snowpack down there and the potential depending on the timing of that runoff, it will certainly contribute to make it possible for higher allocations.”

“This is a dynamic that was certainly in play back in 2011.  About this time in March, we were only at about 55% allocation, so we’re anticipating a little bit ahead of that, but ultimately in 2011, the allocation south of Delta ended up at 80%.”

“In addition to this, we’re also very conscious given the four years of drought and the groundwater conditions in the San Joaquin Valley, we would really want to promote the use of surface water over the coming year, particularly while these surface supplies are available in the 2017 period.  So we are indicating now that we will have a limited amount of water that we will allow to be rescheduled into the 2018 contract year which begins next March, and we’re limiting that to 150,000 acre-feet.  That’s a number that is traditionally one that we’ve used in some very wet years.  It will in our estimation promote the use of the supplies that are available this year, and then would take any unused supplies that may accumulate and just make them available – building quickly on next year’s supplies.  This will allow us a little more efficiency in managing San Luis Reservoir as we go through the end of this irrigation season and into the fall, and then ultimately into next winter and early spring, and put us well positioned to make allocation announcements early next year.”

“So with that, that’s the four corners of our allocation announcement.  I’ll turn this back over to Pablo.”

PABLO ARROYAVE, Acting Regional Director for the Mid Pacific Region

“A couple more comments before we open it up to questions.  My comments are a reiteration of a couple key points that Ron made.”

“First, this is an initial allocation for those particular water users in the south of Delta water service areas.  We will update the allocation as often as needed throughout the spring.  Generally speaking, our final allocations aren’t done until June, so there’s still plenty of opportunity for changing conditions, and we see some cause for optimism there.”

“Another point that Ron reiterated is that this is a perfect example of a year in which there is availability of surface water and it’s a year like this where great improvements can be made to the aquifers, which is especially prudent after the sustained drought that the last few years we have endured.”

“And one last point I would reiterate is that while we took a different allocation approach this year, the three phases that Federico referred to, in future years, Reclamation will continue to strive to release initial allocations for all water users in February.  We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the impacts of a delayed allocation and we do not want that to appear satisfactory as a status quo.”

“So with that, we are open to any questions you may have.”

QUESTION: The water districts south of Delta say it’s great they have 65%, but they question why they don’t have 100%.  When you look at San Luis Reservoir is 100%, and nearly every reservoir is 100%.  Why not 100%?

PABLO ARROYAVE: “First, again, this is only an initial allocation.  As Ron described, in 2011, we ended up at 80% and that is not impossible.  We could see a final allocation in that range.  Another aspect of that is that we still have a significant volume of water in San Luis Reservoir that is carried over from previous years.  And that amount of water is in the neighborhood of 30% of what is currently in San Luis Reservoir on the federal side.  So, that certainly impacts our ability to provide an allocation as well.”

RON MILLIGAN:  “We are, as is typically our practice, making the initial allocation based on some drier forecasts as to what goes forward, from this point.  If we get closer to average, then very well, we could be up close to 100%.  And Pablo is correct, there is a significant amount of water that is in San Luis Reservoir in the federal share that is earmarked from last year.  That’s the equivalent of in our estimation about 15% more of an allocation if that were actually allocatable under the CVP’s label.  So you take the 65% plus another 15%, that takes us up to 80%, which is where we ended up as a final number back in 2011, so that is probably the biggest driver.  The uncertainty as to where that water that is in San Luis, how it’s going to get accounted for as to whose name, but it’s still water that’s going to be in essence delivered to the same districts.”

Question:  Does anything in your decision have to do with smelt or endangered species?

RON MILLIGAN: “We’ve had a really good year as it relates to hydrology and the conditions.  We’ve had very little constraints as it relates to operations for protecting listed or endangered species, so that’s really not the limitation here.  It’s really the plumbing, and we do anticipate being able to made pretty full use of our pumping facilities across the Delta over the summer.  The real question is how long can we take advantage of some of these south of Delta snowmelt conditions.  And that’s the thing that in late March still has a bit of variability around it.”

Question: What would it take for south of Delta to get 100% allocation?  If it may not be happening this year, could it ever be achieved?

RON MILLIGAN:  “Well, certainly it could.  Coming into the year with the extended periods of drought, maybe just a little bit of recovery in 2016, if all the water in San Luis Reservoir was to use the term fully allocatable for this year’s allocation, plus some favorable conditions through the spring, we could definitely be at 100%.  It’s harder for people to use 100% though in a year where you have all this other water running through the system, so that does complicate the usage as well.  And we have taken some of that into account.”

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