REACTIONS to initial Central Valley Project allocation

“Pray for rain and snow,” says the Friant Water Authority

Yesterday, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the initial Central Valley Project allocation, setting an allocation of just 15% for South of Delta contractors.  Here’s what irrigation districts and stakeholders had to say:

From the Byron Bethany Irrigation District:

Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) issued an initial water supply allocation of 15% for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID).

After a promising start to winter, dry conditions have returned across California. It has rained more in February in Death Valley than in Sacramento. The statewide snowpack is below average, and the long- range forecast indicates the lack of rain and snowfall may continue.

“While we certainly wish Reclamation was able to issue a higher allocation, we recognize they must be responsive to our state’s current conditions,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “The looming threat of the next drought underscores the need for adaptative water management. Implementing the new biological opinions abandons an outdated, restrictive approach in favor of real-time, cutting-edge science to best meet the needs of cities, farms and the environment.”

For the first time in a decade, updated biological opinions were issued last week. Those federal rules govern water use through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Had those biological opinions been in place last year, it is estimated that the projects would have been able to save more than one-million acre-feet of additional water. That would be tremendously valuable in any year, but especially in a dry one like 2020. At a 15% allocation, growers in BBID’s CVP service area will have a baseline water supply of just 0.51 acre-feet of water per acre – down from 3.4 acre-feet per acre with a full allocation.

“This initial allocation also underlines the need for investment in our water systems, including increasing storage to save more water during wet years for use during dry ones; and more conveyance to move water more flexibly, ensuring reliability in the face of increasingly unpredictable, extreme weather patterns.”

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) is a multi-county special district serving parts of Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Joaquin Counties across 47 square miles and 30,000 acres. The district serves 160 agricultural customers and more than 20,000 residents of the Mountain House community. For additional media information, contact Nick Janes at 630.915.6493, or via email at

From the California Farm Water Coalition:

“Today’s announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation of a 15 percent initial allocation for water supplies south of the Delta is clearly the result of the dry hydrology California is experiencing. February is shaping up to be possibly the first time in recorded history without any measurable precipitation. That alone is evidence that California may be on the leading edge of another drought.

“These dry conditions are similar to what we saw in 2009. For months farmers were not given an allocation amount and told they may get zero water. In April of that year, well past the time to make effective planting decisions, the allocation was set at 10 percent.

“The new biological opinions implemented last week are already making a difference by allocating 15 percent in February. We’re obviously hopeful that allocations will rise, but we’re pleased to be off to a better start than we were under the old operating rules.

“Had the new biological opinions been in place last year we believe an additional 1 million acre-feet of water could have been stored for use this year, delivering more water and offering better species protection, based on what we’ve learned over the past 10 years studying the Delta and its tributaries.

“That kind of operational flexibility is essential for California to remain the nation’s leading farm state and to continue to produce more than half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S. as well as vast amounts of dairy, beef and nursery products.”

From the Friant Water Authority:

Today’s allocation for the Central Valley Project by the Bureau of Reclamation of only 15% of the South-of-Delta agricultural contract amount and 7% of the total Friant Division contract amount is reflective of one of the driest Februarys seen in the Central Valley. Although the announcement is disappointing, we have no doubt that given this year’s hydrology, without the operational flexibility provided in the new Biological Opinions, Reclamation would not have been able to provide contractors an allocation at all this early in the year. Thus, we are extremely appreciative of the current Biological Opinions, as its clear they are already achieving some of their anticipated positive impacts on Central Valley Project operations and water supply reliability for Reclamation’s customers. We’re also hopeful that if the hydrology and snowpack improves, so will the allocation.

Nonetheless, with such a low initial allocation, we anticipate that growers throughout the south San Joaquin Valley and on the Eastside will need to rely heavily on groundwater supplies, which is likely to further exacerbate the type of regional land elevation subsidence that has so dramatically reduced the capacity of the Friant-Kern Canal. This makes our efforts to repair the facility even more urgent and underscores the need for resolving the valley’s long-term water imbalance.

Pray for rain and snow.

From Federico Barajas at the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority:

Today the Bureau of Reclamation announced the initial allocation for 2020-2021. The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (Authority) understands that dry hydrology is a main driver in the low initial allocations for agricultural and urban water users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Authority wishes that the initial allocation were higher, but understands that existing conditions have prohibited Reclamation from making a higher initial allocation.

The return of a high pressure ridge off of California’s coastline and the associated lack of rain and snowfall continues to reinforce that the next drought is right around the corner. Adaptive management and increased water storage and conveyance are critical to addressing this new reality, which is why we are committed to working with Reclamation to successfully implement the new biological opinions and increase the operational flexibility of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project while simultaneously protecting threatened and endangered fish populations. 

It’s important to note that if the new biological opinions had been in effect in 2019, it is estimated that the projects would have been able to conserve over an additional one million acre-feet of water. Given the dry hydrology facing California today, that additional water would be highly beneficial.

This year’s low initial allocation further reinforces the need to increase investments in water infrastructure, including additional water storage and increased conveyance capacity, to improve near term and longer-term water supplies. 

Authority staff will continue to work with Reclamation and its member agencies to analyze hydrologic conditions in hopes the allocation can be increased as early as practicable.

From the Westlands Water District:

Today the Bureau of Reclamation announced that the initial 2020 allocation for south-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) agricultural water service contractors is 15%. Needless to say, Westlands Water District wishes it were higher, and the District is confident that Reclamation would have provided a higher allocation if existing conditions would have allowed it.

It is likely many people will question a 15% initial allocation considering President Donald J. Trump’s recent remarks concerning new biological opinions issued for coordinated operations of the CVP and State Water Project (SWP). Without question, those new biological opinions restore operational flexibility to the CVP and SWP, while at the same time providing more protection for listed species. Indeed, if those biological opinions had been in effect in 2019, the projects would have been able to conserve more than an additional one-million acre-feet of water. That is enough water to irrigate 300,000 acres of land or serve more than 2 million households in urban areas served by the CVP and SWP. However, 2019 was a wet year, and unless California begins to experience significantly more precipitation, both in the form of rain and snow, 2020 will ultimately be classified as a dry or critical year. Even with the new biological opinions, Reclamation cannot allocate water that its operations forecast indicates will not be available.

Despite the lack of precipitation, it should be noted that the new biological opinions have benefited farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. The 2020 water year is shaping up to be very similar to 2009, a critically dry year. In 2009, south-of-Delta CVP agricultural water service contractors received a 10% allocation, and that allocation did not come until April. Comparatively speaking, a 15% allocation in February is good news. Westlands staff will continue to work with Reclamation and other CVP contractors to analyze hydrologic and environmental conditions in hopes the allocation can be increased as early as practicable.


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