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Water Allocations Highlight New Biological Opinions and Need for Storage

Brian German Agri-Business, Water

The Bureau of Reclamation recently announced the initial 2020 water allocations for Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors. After the announcement, Reclamation officials spoke with members of the media highlighting the need for more storage to offset dry years and how the updated biological opinions affected allocations.

water allocations

“Most of our reservoirs are still above average for this time of year, mostly thanks to a wet winter in 2019,” said Ernest Conant, Regional Director for the California Great Basin region of the Bureau of Reclamation.  “We’ve known for some time that our current storage capacity isn’t enough. With more storage, we would be able to store more carry-over water from good years to bad, and these annual allocations might be less variable.”

The updated biological opinions that were released last year and have been a point of contention between state and federal authorities, were taken into account for the initial allocations that were announced.  Central Valley Project Operations Office Manager Kristin White said that the impact of the new biological opinions was more procedural in nature due to California’s current hydrological conditions.

“There are a number of different requirements in our new biological opinions that differ from the previous biological opinion,” White explained. “However, given the dry conditions, we are now seeing, water quality requirements and water rights requirements are now controlling our operation, leaving little to no room to realize the operational improvements under the biological opinions.”

The Friant Water Authority noted in a statement that the allocation was not what was hoped for but expressed optimism that the new biological opinions will have a positive impact in the future. “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.”

The initial water allocations demonstrate what a dry February it has been, with a snowpack currently measured as less than half of the historical average.  Agricultural water service contractors South-of-Delta are being allocated 15 percent of their contract supply, while San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors and San Joaquin Settlement Contractors are being allocated 100 percent. Water service contractors on the Eastside, including the Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District and Stockton East Water District, will receive 100 percent of their contract total. The Friant Division, which provides water to the Madera Canal and Friant-Kern Canal from Millerton Lake, will receive 20 percent of its initial allocation for Class 1 contractors, and nothing for Class 2 contractors.

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Brian German

Brian German

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Multimedia Journalist for AgNet West