Statement by Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition on the Initial Allocation Announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation

Statement by Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition on the Initial Allocation Announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation

February 25, 2020

“Today’s announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation of a 15 percent initial allocation for water supplies south of the Delta is clearly the result of the dry hydrology California is experiencing. February is shaping up to be possibly the first time in recorded history without any measurable precipitation. That alone is evidence that California may be on the leading edge of another drought.

“These dry conditions are similar to what we saw in 2009. For months farmers were not given an allocation amount and told they may get zero water. In April of that year, well past the time to make effective planting decisions, the allocation was set at 10 percent.

“The new biological opinions implemented last week are already making a difference by allocating 15 percent in February. We’re obviously hopeful that allocations will rise, but we’re pleased to be off to a better start than we were under the old operating rules.

“Had the new biological opinions been in place last year we believe an additional 1 million acre-feet of water could have been stored for use this year, delivering more water and offering better species protection, based on what we’ve learned over the past 10 years studying the Delta and its tributaries.

“That kind of operational flexibility is essential for California to remain the nation’s leading farm state and to continue to produce more than half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S. as well as vast amounts of dairy, beef and nursery products.”

Statement on Allocation of California Water by USBR

Dead Citrus Trees

Today’s announcement of a 5 percent allocation for Central Valley Project water users south of the Delta is another blow to farmers, rural communities and consumers who buy California farm products.

If last year is any indication a number of specialty crops grown on the San Joaquin Valley’s Westside will once again be on the chopping block. In 2015 Westside acreage planted to tomatoes and garlic fell 9 percent and 17 percent, respectively. The combined spring and fall season lettuce acreage was hit even harder with a 53 percent decrease because of water shortages. This year’s dismal water allocation, despite near normal rain and snowfall, is an indication of how inefficiently the federal fishery agencies are managing segments of California’s water system.

“If federal water allocations continue at these disastrous levels, more of the food that consumers Chart showing water storage and annual allocations from State and Federal agenciesbuy will be grown on foreign soil that does not have the food safety and security requirements of California-grown food,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

Eastside farmers in the Central Valley Project’s Friant system are receiving just 30 percent of their water this year. A portion of the Friant supply is being used to fulfill other contract obligations that the federal government is unable to meet because of restrictive water management decisions. In the last two years an estimated 25,000 acres of mature citrus trees, or almost 10 percent of the state’s production area, were removed in response to water shortages. California produces 85 percent of the nation’s fresh citrus.

Federal fishery agencies are restricting water deliveries to large swaths of California farmland and urban communities under the guise of protecting threatened and endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. Despite 20 years of the same kind of pumping restrictions, fish populations are continuing to decline and the agencies have been unable to point to any hard science that justifies those decisions.

Above normal winter rains in Northern California have helped fill the state’s largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, to above 85 percent of capacity and over 100 percent of year-to-date average. Urban communities are now making decisions to relax watering restrictions that were put in place during the drought.

In contrast to today’s disappointing federal announcement, California’s State Water project is expected to deliver 45 percent of requested water allocations. The much lower federal allocation flies in the face of the fact that the federal project’s Lake Shasta currently holds 31 percent more water, or a million acre-feet more than the State project’s Lake Oroville.