El Nino Boosts SWP Water Allotment to 45 Percent

This year’s “miracle March” boosted water conditions well enough in California for officials to boost the State Water Project (SWP) allocation to 45 percent of requested levels.

In the meantime, federal water allocations from the Central Valley Project are expected to be released later this month.

The SWP allocation means that of the 4.17 million acre feet of water requested by the 29 SWP contractors, the state will provide them almost 1.9 million acre feet of water. Collectively, the SWP contractors serve approximately 25 million Californians and just under a million acres of irrigated farmland.

The announcement comes as March storms boosted reservoir levels and added to the snowpack.

Key reservoirs continue to rise from winter storms, though some remain below average for the date.

The SWP’s principal reservoir is Lake Oroville in northern California. As of March 17 storage in the lake was over 2.7 million acre feet, or 77 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity and 105 percent of its historical average for the date.

The news comes after officials started the year predicting a 10 percent allocation to SWP contractors.

Wet weather in January gave way to a sunny and warm February. Even with the increased rain and snow this month, officials are not ready to declare the drought over. California remains on track to end the winter season with near-average conditions.

“February reminded us how quickly California’s weather can turn from wet to dry,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “The lesson of this drought is that we all need to make daily conservation a way of life.”

DWR officials say that because forecasters don’t know from one year to the next what the long-range conditions will be, Californians must still focus on conservation.

Last year Gov. Edmund Brown, Jr. ordered conservation measures, making a 25-percent reduction in water use mandatory by April 1. That order came after the State Water Board was in the midst of curtailing irrigation water to growers as it was apparent that there would be no Sierra snowpack to replenish dwindling reservoirs.

State officials employed temporary barriers in the Delta region for six months in 2015 to ensure that saltwater was not pushed into the region by the tide. This was done to protect fresh water pumping for urban residents. That barrier has since been removed.

Better numbers
Last year’s (2015) 20 percent SWP allocation was the second lowest since 1991, when agricultural customers of the SWP got a zero allocation and municipal customers received 30 percent of requests. In 2014, SWP deliveries were five percent of requested amounts for all customers.

The last 100 percent allocation was in 2006. Seven of the nine years since 2007 have been dry. SWP allocations in recent years:

• 2015 – 20 percent
• 2014 – 5 percent
• 2013 – 35 percent
• 2012 – 65 percent
• 2011 – 80 percent
• 2010 – 50 percent
• 2009 – 40 percent
• 2008 – 35 percent
• 2007 – 60 percent
• 2006 – 100 percent

The SWP provides the same allocation percentages to cities and farms. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the CVP, is expected to announce later this month its initial allocation to farms and cities. The SWP and CVP have different legal and contractual obligations and operational capabilities, and the CVP uses a priority system to allocate water.

On the federal side, Shasta Lake near Redding added well over one million acre feet of storage in March as storms pummeled the watershed and brought the CVP lake to over 3.8 million acre feet of storage, or 85 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity. The level is 110 percent of its historical average.

In spite of the good news there, and the storm flows in the Delta that exceeded 150,000 cubic feet per second at times, San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta pool for both the SWP and CVP, was holding at 990,970 acre-feet or 49 percent of its two million acre-foot capacity because the fish agencies and the Bureau of Reclamation refused to boost pumping sufficiently to fill the reservoir.

Another success story from the recent rain and snow: Folsom Lake, a CVP reservoir near Sacramento, has risen to 70 percent of its 977,000 acre-foot capacity and 117 percent of historical average for the date. The lake rose so quickly that officials were forced to make flood control releases to retain space for heavy inflow.

Those flood control releases, along with upwards of a million acre feet of water from previous storms, were allowed to flow out to sea rather than be captured at the Delta pumps for storage in San Luis Reservoir.

Source: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

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