The driest January through April in California history has delivered a knockout punch for Tulare Irrigation District water deliveries.
General Manager J. Paul Hendrix said TID will have no water run for only the fourth time in its history the district’s board decided last week
TID gets canal water from the federal Central Valley Project (Friant Kern Canal) and has a small Kaweah River allotment but growers in the district will have to totally rely on their pumps and ground water supply this season says Hendrix.
TID gets a good supply of Friant Kern Canal water in wet years like 2010 and 2011 and sunk about half of around 300,000 acre ft each year just for leaner times like these.
“The small amount of surface water coming to us would be only about a weeks supply and half of that would be lost to seepage” along the earthen canals adds Hendrix. The 70 square mile district is a good 30 miles from both the Friant Kern and Lake Kaweah.
“Instead we will trade the asset we have to water districts who have little or no groundwater supply” says Hendrix, foothill water districts like Exeter and Terra Bella who are are in real need this year.
TID is looking to make deals on a supply delivered this year in exchange for say, double that amount in a wet year coming back to Tulare. “We are not not peddling our water to buy a pick up truck.It all goes to water in the future.”
Dry years in past were 1977,1987 and1990 says Hendrix, with this year considered second worst after 1977 when Friant Water Users got just 25% of contracted Class 1 water. This year Friant districts will get just 45% of contracted amounts although that could go up or down a little in coming weeks says Friant GM Ron Jacobsma.
“It depends in part on high elevation snow melt that may or may not be there.”
On the Kaweah, Lake Kaweah is expected to get to 100,000 acre ft this Memorial Day similar to the pattern of 1990 – another drought year.The lake can hold 185,00 acre ft. It will be just a puddle by October.
Back on the Fraint Kern Canal, a 45% allocation would mean just 340,000 acre ft of water out of 800,000 acre ft under contract would be available to Friant districts along the eastside of the Central Valley.
Not just farms but muni water districts like Fresno, Orange Cove and Lindsay depend on the federal surface water for drinking.Lindsay and Orange Cove are struggling this summer with wells with high DBCP levels and need clean surface water to blend with the tainted water to meet standards.
Friant’s source is San Joaquin River water stored in relatively small Millerton Lake above Fresno that is expected to go down to dead dead pool elevation of 135,000 acre ft when it can no longer deliver water to the Friant Kern Canal.
Jacobsma says restoration flows delivered to the San Joaquin River below the dam under the settlement will also be reduced this dry year even as farmers get less. Under a critical dry scenario restoration flows for the water year could be cut 100,000 acre ft resulting in some water coming back to Friant users. Jacobsma says it is not yet clear if we have reached that level.
“We have had 2 dry years in a row and third one this coming year would mean a real hardship for growers” with little reservoir back up around the state – a plus we enjoy this year to do water exchanges.
Near Tulare, Lower Tule River general manager Dan Vink says their district may do a short water run for famers late this summer but can’t make it pencil out if the run would last any less than 12 days.
Further south, Arvin Edison water district is tapping their joint water bank with Metropolitan Water District with each district benefiting after years of sinking part of MET’s state water supply on Arvin Edison ground.
Just how tough it will be this season depends in part how long and hot the summer of 2013 will be.
‘We want to at least keep our permanent plants alive” says Jacobsma noting there will be some fallowing of field and vegetable cropland this year because of the drought.
The US Climate Prediction Center calls for a warmer than average summer over the West including the Central Valley and inland parts of the state.