With above normal precipitation in California this winter after three years of
drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made an announcement Feb. 26 that
on its surface seemed to say that farmers on the West Side of California's San
Joaquin Valley, who had their federal water deliveries slashed to almost
nothing last year, could expect as much as 30-40 percent of their normal
water this year.
That announcement led to news headlines across the country proclaiming
that relief was on its way for West Side farmers, who were forced to fallow
hundreds of thousands of acres last year due to water cuts.
On the strength of that announcement, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) put "on
hold" a legislative amendment she had proposed seeking a temporary
relaxation of environmental restrictions to allow 40 percent allotments
through water transfers from Northern California through the Sacramento
River Delta to farms in the San Joaquin Valley.
But a close reading of the Bureau of Reclamation's release shows that farmers
are actually only being promised a 5 percent allocation, and that anything
higher than that is only a possibility -- and a remote one at best, according
to Sarah Wolf, spokesperson for the Westlands Water District.
Westland gets all of its water from the federal Central Valley Project and has
historically provided water for some 660,000 acres of West Side farmland.
Farms and cities in Northern California have been assured of 100 percent of
normal allotments this year, and environmental interests are guaranteed full
allotments as well. The excess will run out into the ocean. Yet farmers south
of the delta will be lucky to see more than 5 percent of their allocations.
The challenge comes in being able to transfer that excess water through the
Sacramento River Delta and into the San Joaquin Valley because of court-
ordered restrictions on pumping water out of the delta. Even though there is
adequate water this year, the Bureau of Reclamation is basically telling
farmers south of the delta that "with the pumping restrictions in place, 'we
can't get enough water through the delta to deliver you any more than that,'"
Ms. Woolf said.
Even if the bureau does announce higher allotments later on, the problem is
that growers need to make planting decisions now, she said.