Tulare County farmer Tom Barcellos has heard all the talk about farmers not doing their part to save water in California and grimaces.
”We have zero allocation starring at us for a second year in a row” through the Central Valley Project.
“When you get zero water – it’s hard to promise to save more than that.”
Friant Water Authority says farmers along the eastern side of the Valley including Tulare County who normally get water from the big Friant Kern Canal “can’t survive another year” without it. The canal irrigates the most productive land in the number-one ag county in the US that is also home to the state’s billion dollar citrus industry.
At a Friant board meeting held this week in Visalia with federal Bureau of Reclamation officials in the room – there appeared to be understanding of how serious the situation for local farmers has become.
“I do think they understand” says Barcellos,and “there is a glimmer of hope.”
The hope comes in a tentative plan to round up around 50,000 acre feet that could be delivered to farmers this summer along the Friant Kern Canal – water over and above about 6,000 af proposed to municipal users like the town of Lindsay.This would mean, unlike last year – water would be delivered along the 153 mile canal.
So says Friant GM Ron Jacobsma, now outgoing general manager. Jacobsma stepped down at this week’s meeting but will continue working for the group for several months.”I’ve got a lot to do if we are going to get some water.”
Jacobsma says ”the Bureau said they are going to try to work with us “ to keep what we have in reservoirs on the upper San Joaquin – perhaps 90,000 acre ft to 50,000 acre ft that we could use. ”They think its closer to 50,000 af.”
The idea would be rather than release 50,000 af down the river to the Exchange Contractors who would get just 40,000 acre ft after river percolation losses – do a separate trade or purchase of water.
Through exchanges,transfers and payments by Friant farmers hopefully 50,000 af could be obtained and offered to the San Joaquin Exchange Contractors who would add that to what they will get out of Shasta reservoir delivered by the Bureau.
Last year the Exchange Contractors who have rights to San Joaquin River water if they can not get it from Shasta – received around 300,000 af from Shasta and took 200,000af from Friant – all of their supply.
This year Friant – due to poor rainfall, has only 50,000 af available that is not committed.Some must be kept in reservoirs dead pools and about 125,000 af will go down the river to smaller contractors. In this dry year like last, there will be no release for “restoration.”
So it looks like they may be able to keep 50,000 af.
Jacobsma says 50,000 af is enough to save 50,000 acres of orange trees this summer with an acre-foot of water, keeping trees alive although not enough to produce a crop. In Tulare County alone there is over 100,000 acres of citrus – mostly on the east side, some with no ground water.
Jacobsma expects that not all Friant districts will take water this year considering it will a small amount to be divided up and some districts are more needy than others.
“Water moving in the canal will allow local exchanges.”
“In the last dry year in 1977, we still delivered over 200,000 af of water to our contractors” adds Jacobsma. In an average year it is more like 750,000 af of surface water, even more in wet years.
Last year of course they delivered close to zero.
At issue is whether there is enough federal water stored in Shasta Dam to give the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors their “critically dry year supply” of 650,000 acre ft this year, a move that would allow Friant Water Users to tap their own water stored above Friant Dam on the upper San Joaquin.
Compared to last year Shasta is fuller – at 70% of historical average compared to just 59% in April of 2014. There is about 300,000 af more this year.
In this, the fourth year of the drought, Ron Milligan, Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region Operations Manager, told Friant officials a few months ago it did not look good this year again. He said that under a continued dry scenario, “It doesn’t appear that there would be any water available for any Class 1 supply.”
Earlier this week Exchange Contractors GM Chris White said his understanding is that the issue is status quo like last year and to make the Exchange Contractors whole they would again make a call on Friant for water stored above Friant Dam to be released down the San Joaquin River for Exchange Contractor use.
But White added “there are still some negotiations going on that could help” apparently referring to this plan.This group of Los Banos-based farmers have been working with Friant and the Bureau to try to get Friant some water.
Barcellos hopes the Bureau may make some sort of announcement on the idea next week.
Jacobsma says if the plan hatches – he expects only some of the districts will take water this year while others trade to allow the most needy farmers to save their orchards
“There is just a ton of anxiety out there.”