The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced yesterday the initial water allocation available to water contractors for calendar year 2014 is 5%. According to a DWR press release, “The initial allocation is a conservative estimate of what DWR expects it can deliver as a percentage of the total amount requested by the public water agencies that contract for SWP deliveries.”
Although only the first of several expected announcements, the 5% allocation is the lowest initial estimate that DWR has issued since 2010, further emphasizing the dry conditions that the state is experiencing. Estimates can be revised throughout the year based on a number of factors, including water volume added to reservoirs from winter storms and rainfall. Typically, estimates increase, but as farmers can well attest to last year, estimates actually decreased.
According the San Francisco Chronicle, California’s “often dry and unpredictable precipitation patterns” are not the only thing affecting the lower estimate. Farmers also blame both California’s water infrastructure, which is outdated as well as environmental policies which dictate how much water can be pumped from the Delta in order to protect fish such as the delta smelt, for the low estimate.
Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors was quoted in the story as saying, "We lost an opportunity earlier this year to capture a significant amount of water due to our outdated water system. If we had a more modern water delivery system in place, like that proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, we would have more water in storage, and today's low allocation announcement wouldn't be so dire."
The key feature of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan – twin tunnels to convey water under the Delta directly to state and federal pumps – will not be constructed and operational for many years, assuming the Plan is adopted and survives expected legal attacks. WG is focused on persuading federal and state regulators to operate the existing system more rationally than was the case last year, when nearly one million acre feet of water flowed past the pumps and out to sea due to Endangered Species Act (ESA) restrictions on pumping operations in the Delta. “Drought conditions are inflicting great injury on farmers and the communities that depend on the farm economy throughout the San Joaquin Valley,” said WG’s Dave Puglia. “Federal and state regulators must not compound the damage. They have discretion to set water pumping levels within a range when high water flows occur in the Delta. As winter approaches and runoff opportunities appear, we call on the regulatory agencies to operate at the upper range of their discretion, to ease the human and economic harm occurring in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere.”
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