North Valley gets more water at expense of south

The Fresno BeeMay 15, 2014 


    These agencies are getting more water under a federal decision this week:

    • The Central California Irrigation District, which 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., which serves about 45,000 acres east of Los Banos and north of Dos Palos.

    • The Firebaugh Canal Water District, which stretches across about 22,000 acres just west of Firebaugh and Mendota.

    • The Columbia Canal Co., which covers nearly 17,000 acres just east of Firebaugh and Mendota.

Four irrigation districts between Crows Landing and Mendota will get a boost in water supplies this year, but at the expense of farmers to the south.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced this week that it was boosting its 2014 allocation to 60 percent of the contracted amount for the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority. This area, covering about 225,000 acres, rose from 40 percent because of storms in late winter and early spring.

The bureau also increased water deliveries for wildlife refuges along the river from 40 percent to 65 percent.

Some of the water will come from Millerton Reservoir on the San Joaquin River. It usually supplies farmers on the east side of the Valley from Madera to Kern counties but will not do so this year because of the drought.

The northern districts get the water because of rights they held long before construction of the federal Central Valley Project in the 1940s. They exchanged their direct access to the San Joaquin River for Sacramento River water delivered through the CVP, but that supply has fallen well short this year.

The beneficiaries are the Central California Irrigation District, the San Luis Canal Co., the Firebaugh Canal Water District and the Columbia Canal Co.

They are in relatively good shape in a year when most of the Valley has zero water from the CVP. Farmers have increased well pumping, fallowed some of their land, and sought supplies on the tight open market. Even in wet years, many areas get less than their contracted amount because of fish protections.

The area usually served by Millerton is represented by the Friant Water Authority. Ron Jacobsma, its general manager, said he is still struggling to find enough water.

“We are trying to keep tens of thousands of acres of citrus alive out here and we are nickel and diming it,” he said.

Pablo Arroyave, the bureau’s deputy regional director, said this is the first time it has had to provide water from Millerton for the exchange contractors. The deliveries were to start Thursday.

Steve Chedester, executive director of the exchange authority, said more water is always good news for the 2,300 farms he serves. But he noted that the government says it will provide an increased amount of water only through October. He worries about November and December, adding that the bureau says it remains committed to finding supplies for the exchange then, as well.

“We are committed to helping the bureau try to find that water,” he said. “In our perspective, it needs to be the full amount for the full year.”

There is a possibility that if the water situation improves, Friant growers could get water later in the year. “But that may mean putting water on dead trees,” Jacobsma said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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