West Side water cuts get even worse
Modesto Bee (CA), 2014-02-19
Feb. 19--The federal government plans sharp water cutbacks for four West Side irrigation districts that until now had not suffered major effects from the drought.
The districts, which stretch across about 225,000 acres from Crows Landing to Mendota, are projected to get just 40 percent of their contracted amounts from the federal Central Valley Project this year.
The allocation is better than the zero water some federal contractors on the West Side face, but it nonetheless is a blow to farmers who have enjoyed some of the most secure water supplies in the region.
The four districts -- the Central California Irrigation District, the San Luis Canal Co., the Firebaugh Canal Water District and the Columbia Canal Co. -- all have rights to the San Joaquin River that date to the 19th century. When the federal government diverted most of the river to the south in the mid-20th century, it promised replacement water from the Sacramento River, pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The agreement provides for 100 percent of contracted water in most years, even in moderate droughts, and 75 percent in "critical" dry years. But 2014 is so bad that a record low of 40 percent is expected to be available, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced.
"It is going to be a very difficult year for our landowners," Chris White, general manager at Central California, said Tuesday. "This is certainly not normal for them."
The district will increase its use of groundwater, which White said is in "pretty healthy" shape. Growers of annual crops could fallow some of their ground so more water is available to orchards and other permanent crops.
The short allocation also means the districts will not sell water to other agencies this year. They had been doing so with water conserved through projects such as drip and microsprinkler irrigation, concrete lining of canals, and recapture of water that runs off fields.
The 40 percent allocation would mean 336,000 acre-feet for the four districts, rather than the usual 840,000. White said the estimate was based on a Feb. 1 snowpack survey and could increase after accounting for the storms early this month and other moisture still to come.
The four districts are united as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority. The term "exchange" refers to the 1939 agreement to trade their direct river access for Delta water. More details on each:
--The Central California Irrigation District covers about 143,000 acres in two blocks. One includes farmland around Crows Landing, Newman, Gustine, Santa Nella and Los Banos. The other stretches from Dos Palos to Mendota.
--The San Luis Canal Co. serves about 45,000 acres east of Los Banos and north of Dos Palos.
--The Firebaugh Canal Water District stretches across about 22,000 acres just west of Firebaugh and Mendota.
--The Columbia Canal Co. covers nearly 17,000 acres just east of Firebaugh and Mendota.
The 40 percent projection was announced in a letter from Michael Jackson, area manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
"Current water supply conditions throughout the state of California are uncharacteristically dry with a very low probability of full recovery to normal conditions this water year," he wrote.
The four districts lie close to some of those that expect zero federal water this year. They include the 45,000-acre Del Puerto Water District, along Interstate 5 between Vernalis and Santa Nella, and the 600,000-acre-plus Westlands Water District in Fresno and Kings counties.
The reductions have come about in part because of the drought and in part to protect salmon and smelt from the massive Delta pumps.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.
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