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Where’s the water?

State resources sets historic low allotment

POSTED December 1, 2009 10:22 p.m.
The California State Department of Water Resources made history on Tuesday by announcing the lowest ever initial water allocation percentage for State Water Project contractors.
The 29 State Water Project contractors requested the maximum contractual amount allowed, nearly 4.2 million acre-feet in total. The initial 2010 allocation is just five percent of that request, or roughly 210,000 acre-feet of water.
“The California Department of Water Resources initial allocation of just 5 percent for the State Water Project today is nothing short of an abomination,” said U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA18) in a press release. “This is the lowest initial allocation of water that has ever been awarded in the history of this water system. We have moved beyond a regional water emergency and are now staring in the face of a statewide emergency and a potential national food crisis. It is this simple: Without water, our California farmers cannot grow the crops that feed our nation.”
The SWP is a water storage and delivery system comprised of reservoirs, aqueducts, power plants and pumping plants up and down the state. It provides water supplies for 23 million Californians and 755,000 acres of irrigated farmland, servicing Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, and Southern California.
The historic low flows through the State Water Project will not directly affect Turlock Irrigation District customers. TID sources water from the Tuolumne River and Don Pedro Reservoir, not the SWP. The Patterson-based Oak Flat Water District is the only user of SWP water in Stanislaus County.
The low initial SWP allocation reflects declining storage levels in major reservoirs — a result of three drought years — and increasing federally mandated environmental water usage. The Department of Fish and Game reports that Delta smelt, Longfin smelt, Striped bass, and Threadfin shad, all of which are sustained in part by SWP water, are at their lowest-ever population levels.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Tuesday that the SWP announcement reinforced the need for the comprehensive $11 billion water bill he signed into law on Nov. 9, which must be approved by voters on Nov. 2, 2010. The money would be leveraged with local and federal funds into $40 billion worth of new dams, belowground and aboveground water storage, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta restoration, and various regional water projects.
“Today’s allotment announcement only highlights the dire situation the state’s water system is facing,” Schwarzenegger said. “This is further evidence that severe drought coupled with population growth has made it essential that we better store and move our fresh water throughout our state. I am encouraged that we are in a position to rebuild the system to withstand the drought situations so we are not forced to agonize over a clean, reliable water supply for future generations.”
The historic low initial allocation, based on a projected dry winter, is likely to increase as the DWR gets a better idea of what the season’s rainfall and snowfall will be. Should El Niño return, as projected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a wet winter could raise the allocation as high as 95 percent of requests, according to DWR projections.
The previous low for an initial SWP allocation was 10 percent of contractors’ requests in 1993, though that number eventually settled at 100 percent as supply conditions improved. Last year, the initial allocation of 15 percent of requests was increased to a final allocation of 40 percent, which is below the 68 percent 10-year average.
Rob Santos, president-elect of the TID Board of Directors, said he agrees that the SWP allotment is likely to increase from this extremely early projection, mandated by a Schwarzenegger executive order. The water year just began on Oct. 1.
TID is unlikely to announce its own preliminary irrigation allotment until March. Even last year, when the TID revealed its first allotment in March, heavy snowmelt allowed TID to drastically increase the available irrigation water.
As for this year’s TID allotment, Santos declined to comment at this early date.
“So far I think we’re about normal or a little below normal, but we’re only one month in,” Santos said.
“I don’t want to get my hopes up,” he continued. “I don’t want to jinx it.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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