For what is believed to be the first time ever in Fresno’s 145-year surface irrigation history or the Fresno Irrigation District’s 95 years of service, no regular surface water deliveries will be made this year to growers within the 250,000-acre FID.
To blame is the increasingly severe drought that is unrelenting in its grip upon Central California and all of the southern Sierra Nevada. Due to this year’s deficient mountain snowpack and rainfall totals, natural unimpaired Kings River flows this spring and summer — as if there were no dams — are almost certain to be so minimal that they will break the river’s all-time record for low runoff.
Fresno Irrigation District directors voted this week to make minimal water available for recharge because FID’s Kings River entitlement is projected to be too small to provide a full turn of deliveries to all agricultural users. This is the fourth consecutive year that FID will receive none of its Class 2 Central Valley Project water from the San Joaquin River and Friant Division.
The board decided FID will provide groundwater recharge operations in the District’s Fancher Creek, Dry Creek and Herndon Canal water delivery systems and a one-month hardship run on the District’s eastern side. Both runs will begin June 1. Deliveries will continue to surface water treatment plants in Fresno and Clovis.
“This means that water will be flowing in canals but, except for approved hardship deliveries on the east side, will not be available for on-farm use,” said Gary Serrato, FID General Manager. “We are going to be relying on our users to assure that this water will only be for groundwater recharge purposes and will not be used for irrigation.”
Serrato said FID’s staff will closely patrol and monitor the District’s lengthy system of canals and pipelines to look for violations. Turnout gates will be equipped with locks and chains.
Violations will be costly. Board members adopted a policy under which a fine of $2,500 for each illegal diversion of water will be assessed. As a further penalty, any violator will lose all surface water diversion privileges during the 2016 season.
“We’re definitely experiencing history being made,” said Serrato. “Predicted Kings River runoff during the prime snowmelt period from April through July is now anticipated to be 7%-10% of average, or less than 120,000 acre-feet.”
On an annual basis for the water year that ends September 30, the Kings River watershed is currently expected to produce runoff totaling less than 16% of average. That would be much below the Kings’ long-standing minimum-runoff record of 23% in 1924.
Any applications for east side hardship water or any grower questions should be directed to the District’s water management office, 233-7161.