The Fresno Irrigation District is playing a pivotal role in making sure several small eastern San Joaquin Valley cities and towns will receive drinking water this year, even though those communities’ principal Central Valley Project supply source may largely dry up.
FID was asked recently by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials to bank a small amount of CVP water – up to 13,000 acre-feet – currently stored in Millerton Lake behind Friant Dam. The District is a contractor for Central Valley Project (CVP) water delivered from the San Joaquin River’s Friant Dam, although the bulk of FID’s water is supplied under the District’s Kings River entitlement, which is not affected.
“This emergency arrangement has no adverse impacts on FID’s water supply and entitlement,” said Gary Serrato, FID General Manager. “The water is simply being made available by Reclamation to the District to bank under its current programs and facilities that will be returned throughout the year. What this will do is help meet the needs of several communities along the Friant-Kern Canal that in this critically dry year are faced with the very real prospect of receiving none of their CVP water from Friant.”
Those cities and towns – including Friant and Orange Cove in Fresno County, and Lindsay, Strathmore and Terra Bella in Tulare County – who contract with Reclamation for Friant Division water. Each of the affected communities has limited groundwater availability or none at all.
An unprecedented zero water supply allocation from Reclamation for all Friant contractors appears possible when Reclamation makes its initial 2014 declaration later this month.
Contributing to the grim water outlook are deepening drought conditions, a San Joaquin River watershed snowpack that is a fraction of what it should be at this time of year and what now appears to be an increasingly-likely “call” on Friant water releases by the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, the river’s historic water right holders. (The Exchange Contractors are entitled to receive their water supply from the San Joaquin River and Friant when it is not possible for Reclamation to deliver an adequate amount of substitute Delta water to the Exchange Contractors at Mendota Pool.)
“Minus this arrangement with Reclamation, there really is no other avenue that will make it possible to provide a water supply to these East Side communities,” Serrato said. “In the drought of 1976-77, farmers and neighbors came together when wells were going dry by allowing neighbors to use still functioning pumps to irrigate. That is exactly what we’re doing, at the Bureau’s request, to help our neighbors. It’s the humanitarian thing to do.”
The emergency-supply water to be used is being made available through the Bureau of Reclamation’s suspension of San Joaquin River Restoration Program Interim Restoration Flows from Friant Dam. The Restoration Flow release will be scaled down beginning Saturday, February 1, one month earlier than called for in the Stipulation of Settlement under current water conditions. The decision for this action was agreed upon by the Friant Water Authority and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in coordination with other Settling Parties in the San Joaquin River litigation. ‘
David Murillo, Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Regional Director, said, “The decision that the Settling Parties have made provides the best scenario for all involved in these very difficult conditions. It is encouraging to see the parties coming together in tough times and finding creative solutions.”