REACTIONS: Westlands, farm organizations react to Central Valley Project allocation of 65% to south-of-Delta ag

Yesterday, the Bureau of Reclamation released its long awaited Central Valley Project allocation for the upcoming growing season.  Generally speaking, all contractors are receiving full supplies with the exception of south-of-Delta M&I who will receive 90% and south-of-Delta agricultural contractors, who will receive 65%.

With reservoirs brimming and rivers running high with record precipitation, many question why not full supplies.  Reclamation officials said in a media call that the low allocation is a result of high carryover storage, not regulations protecting endangered species, and that the allocation could potentially be revised later in the season.

Here’s what farm organizations and the Westlands Water District had to say, listed in alphabetical order:

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

After the federal Central Valley Project reported today it expects to deliver only 65 percent of contract water supplies to its agricultural water contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the announcement shows how operation of the state’s water system remains in need of an overhaul.

“In the alternate universe of California water, we can have floods, full reservoirs and a huge snowpack and still not have full water supplies. It boggles the mind,” Wenger said.

“Operation of our water system remains out of whack. We need to continue efforts to improve and expand the system,” he said. “In Congress, passage of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act last year marked an important step in addressing the system’s inadequacies. Congress must now follow through with measures such as Rep. David Valadao’s Gaining Responsibility on Water Act, which would offer longer-term ability to store and move water.”

Wenger said farmers and ranchers will also press Congress to modernize endangered-species laws, “to balance the goals of environmental restoration with the ability to provide the resources needed to grow food and farm products.”

At the state level, he said, California must move as quickly as possible to invest money from the Proposition 1 water bond into storage projects that provide the state with more ability to store water in wet winters such as this.

“Improved storage capacity, both above and below ground, is crucial to California’s long-term ability to withstand droughts, protect against floods and gain the flexibility needed to allow people and the environment to thrive,” Wenger said.

From the California Farm Water Coalition:

Low, Late CVP Allocation for South of Delta Contractors

Many south-of-delta water users learned today, after months of waiting, that they will only get 65% of their allocation this year. The initial announcement, delayed beyond the usual date comes late for growers looking to make critical decisions on-farm.

“While nature has provided an abundant supply in this record-breaking year and dams continue to be managed for flooding constraints, the broken bureaucratic system is not only unable to deliver full contract amounts, but now comes so late that farmers are left scrambling to make planting decision,” said Wade.

“If this is the best that can be done in the wettest year on record, what do future average and dry years hold?” Wade continued.

Communities who endured years of drought-induced water restrictions must now confront the consequences created by the failure to modernize and improve our system- from delays to increasing water storage and resolving conveyance constraints, to rejecting holistic management of the threats facing native species.

“Water that passes South could be used not only to reduce groundwater use, but to actually recharge and bank it in many places. Recharging water is as important a part of the future of storage as new reservoirs are. We must look to maximize the water we get during wet years and prepare for the future- we have to use the tools and supplies we have.” said Wade.

The State and Federal governments must now work quickly to adopt new, commonsense policies that not only encourage water storage during times of abundance in preparation for times of below-average precipitation, and ensure that agencies pursue outcomes-driven and holistic management strategies of native species, but that these policies are executed working in partnership with water experts from local and regional water management agencies to promote the most effective and efficient management of resources.

From the California Water Alliance:

Aubrey Bettencourt, Executive Director of the California Water Alliance (CalWA) announced today her organization’s disappointment following announcement of initial water allocations for farms in the Central Valley:

“After a two-month delay and with a snowpack that is 200 percent above normal, in at time of brimming-full reservoirs, statewide flooding not seen since the 1890’s and with receding memories of six years of drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) has set its initial water allocation for Central Valley rural communities and farmers at 65 percent and California’s largest cities at 90 percent,” Bettencourt said.

“USBR’s allocations for the past three years were Zero, Zero, 5 and now 65 percent.” Bettencourt continued. “This is at a time when the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) literally  has no more room to store water and is managing the system for flood prevention.”

“USBR’s decision and actions prove that excessive regulations and flawed management philosophies are causing California’s water shortages — both in times of drought and in years when rain is plentiful — not hydrographic conditions of the state,” she said.

“USBR has confused its role with that of a policy maker rather than perform its true function as manager and operator of the nation’s largest man-made water delivery system in a predictable, safe and reliable manner. ”

“Whether in drought or flood, regulators dictate whether there will be a water shortage in California,” Bettencourt continued.

“The state’s water system is out of date, undersized and overburdened with regulatory requirements. Federal and state regulations — despite their intent —  have failed to protect our environment, wildlife, waterfowl and fish, water quality, nor have they secured reliability of our water supply. Rather, the regulators have precipitated further declines in endangered species and devastated groundwater aquifers statewide by depriving them of the surface water necessary for their habitats and recharge.”

Bettencourt described the impacts farmers expect as a result of another year of low surface water deliveries:

“The Bureau of Reclamation’s setting of another low surface-water delivery allocation will aggregate groundwater overdraft and cause more land subsidence in aquifers of the state, precipitating a continuing environmental catastrophe.”

“This isn’t about ‘wanting more water,’” she continued. “It’s about doing what’s right and scientifically proven. Apparently no amount of rain will make a difference in California. Our state is destined to wither in a perpetual state of drought — natural and regulatory.”

From the Westlands Water District:

Any person not intimately familiar with the constraints on operations of the Central Valley Project (CVP) imposed by the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws, would expect that all water contractors would this year receive a 100 percent allocation. With a near record-setting year of rainfall, runoff, and snowpack, anything less would be indefensible. Remarkably, the Bureau of Reclamation did not announce a full allocation but instead announced a 2017 initial water allocation announcement of 65 percent for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project agricultural contract water districts.

If a 100 percent allocation is not possible this year, when, if ever, would a 100 percent allocation be possible? After all, the public has been told repeatedly that low allocations are due to drought, not regulations. But this year is proof that such assertions are false.

Westlands Water District is thankful that the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial water allocation provides a significant amount of water this year. But that appreciation is framed by two consecutive years of zero water followed by 5 percent being available from the CVP. In the context of sound water resource management, a 65 percent allocation approaches the unbelievable, given the amount of water available in the system. This allocation will compel farmers to continue to rely on groundwater, at a time when sound principles of conjunctive use would otherwise demand that groundwater not be pumped.

The announcement is particularly disappointing in light of the fact that the allocation was delayed well into the planting season, forcing growers to make decisions about hiring, business operations, and land use without any certainty of water resources.

Given the near-record snowpack and water storage levels, a 65 percent allocation demonstrates that current operational constraints, regulations, and punitive laws have hamstrung the CVP’s ability to provide water to California communities. The partial allocation is evidence for the need to change the laws governing water deliveries. We urge our elected officials to work with federal and state agencies to seek long-term solutions that will achieve the original purpose of the CVP and provide a healthy water supply for future generations.

From Western Growers:

In response to the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation’s initial water allocation announcement of 65% today for farmers south of the Delta served by the federal Central Valley Project, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif issued the following statement:

“With record-level precipitation and flooding, and fear of more to come, a 65 percent Central Valley Project initial water allocation for farmers south of the Delta defies logic. While an improvement over the zero to five percent allocations of the past three years, the stark reality is inescapably obvious:  Regulatory actions are depriving farmers and millions of Californians dependent on the farm economy of their livelihoods. Populations of the fish species these actions purportedly protect have not recovered, yet this year federal and state agencies will again redirect massive amounts of water out to sea while shorting farmers. Meanwhile, local water managers are struggling to create plans that comply with a state groundwater management law that prohibits excess pumping of groundwater while their main supply of water to recharge those basins continues to be throttled down.

“It is time for California to get serious about the building of additional storage capacity, as directed by the voters in approving the 2014 water bond. It is equally important for our elected officials to work with the appropriate government agencies to remove the punitive and unjustified regulatory chains jeopardizing the future of thousands of California farmers and the economic and social vitality of millions of our fellow Californians.”

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