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Feds reduce water to Valley farms, and Westlands to ration water through summer: Unprecedented move follows dry 'rainy season.'

Fresno Bee 6/3/08. Forward by Dan Keppen, Family Farm Alliance Executive Director

Coming at the end of the driest spring in 88 years on record, recent preliminary forecasts indicate that the Central Valley Project (CVP) share of San Luis Reservoir storage will reach an untenable negative 240,000 acre-feet at the end of August, absent some combination of additional export pumping, source shifting, or demand rationing. CVP water users in the San Joaquin Valley have already announced a strict water allocation program.

As a result of the extremely dry spring, implementation of the court-ordered Delta Smelt restrictions, and other environmental restrictions on CVP operations related primarily to conserving cold water in upstream storage for the benefit of the Endangered Species Act-listed winter run salmon, it is anticipated that pumping out of the Delta will be at minimum capacity during June and at 80% during July and August. The State Water Project (SWP) is also scrambling to meet its south-of-delta demands while dealing with the worst projected carryover storage from Lake Oroville since 1977.

 The following two articles provide further insight into this very serious development. Family Farm Alliance board member Dan Errotabere is quoted in the 5/30 article.

 Dan Keppen
Executive Director
Family Farm Alliance

Feds reduce water to Valley farms

Westlands Water District growers in crisis, to decide which crops to abandon.

The Fresno Bee 6/3/08 by Dennis Pollock, staff writer

LOS BANOS -- Federal officials told hundreds of farmers in the Westlands Water District on Monday that they will get even less irrigation water -- just days after the district announced a rationing plan.


Farmers in the nation's largest federal water district will be hit hard -- many said they expect to abandon crops or even go out of business for lack of water.

Two members of Congress and district officials urged Gov. Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency.


"Half the people in this room are going to go broke," Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manger, said at a meeting that drew about 400 to the fairgrounds in Los Banos. "This is a crisis that has to be fixed now."


The crisis was blamed on a court ruling and a dry spring.


The ruling -- capping a series of decisions that farmers opposed -- came in April. U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger in Fresno ordered reduced deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which is the source for Westlands water, to protect threatened fish.


The dry spring became apparent when rainfall in March, April and May fell far below average, said Ron Milligan, operations manager for the Central Valley Project, run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Rainfall was 3.5 inches over the three months, the lowest since 1924, he said.


In anticipation of the water crisis, Westlands on Friday established a rationing plan that cut irrigation supplies by about one-third for June, July and August -- the hottest summer months.


On Monday, confirming a move that district officials had forecast Friday, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that water allocations from the delta are being cut to 40% from 45%.


Westlands, which covers 600,000 acres, accounts for $1 billion in farm production, 20% of the total for the No. 1 farm county in the nation, Fresno County.

"Something has been unleashed that we can't get our arms around," said Mike Houlding, a Cantua Creek grower. He said the sharp reduction in water supplies comes on top of skyrocketing fertilizer and fuel costs.


As early as this week, some farmers in Westlands could begin making decisions on which crops to abandon, said Sarah Woolf, a Westlands spokeswoman. She said she will begin surveying growers this week to see how their water needs match what is available.


Several speakers -- starting with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who convened the briefing -- characterized the crisis as "the perfect storm," a convergence of extremely dry weather and court-ordered cutbacks.


"Maybe this is the crisis that is necessary to get decisions that are needed in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.," he said. He and Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, who also participated in the briefing, have long called for more water storage.


Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson said the crisis is certain to go beyond farms. He said it will affect small businesses that rely on farming. "There are many jobs at stake," he said.


Milligan said the Bureau of Reclamation will ask the State Water Quality Control Board to adjust standards to allow more ground water to be pumped into the delta.


The Metropolitan Water District, which serves Southern California, also has found its supplies strained by a drought that cut back supplies from the Colorado River. But that district has built storage facilities that give it enough water to cover needed supplies for two years, reclamation officials said. They said they are talking with MWD officials to see whether they will agree to reduce the amount of water they get from the delta.


"Their day of reckoning is coming, too," said John Davis, the bureau's deputy regional director.


Milligan said he asked all districts that draw from the delta -- including the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, which includes Westlands and 30 other districts -- to provide revised schedules for the amount of water they need.


Although farmers and water district leaders pressed for specifics on how much water the bureau would be able to deliver, none of the officials could give a specific number. Woolf, the spokeswoman for the district, said not knowing will make it hard to make decisions on what crops to keep.


Mark Borba, a Riverdale grower, said Schwarzenegger "needs to be more forceful. He needs to be The Terminator. He has to quit making it like Jello."

California Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamura defended the governor's championing of more water storage and repairs to the water delivery system in the state, but he stopped short of pledging that the governor would declare a state of emergency. #



Westlands to ration water through summer: Unprecedented move follows dry 'rainy season.'

The Fresno Bee 5/30/08 by Dennis Pollock and Mark Grossi

After the driest spring in more than 80 years, Westlands Water District is rationing its already reduced irrigation supply through the hottest months of the year.


The move could mean damaged crops, abandoned fields and lost jobs.


Contributing to the unprecedented decision, which cut irrigation supplies by about one-third, is a court ruling setting aside water for threatened fish in Northern California.


Officials of the Westlands Water District, the nation's largest at 600,000 acres, decided this week to continue rationing through Aug. 31, spokeswoman Sarah Woolf said.


Westlands, most of which is in Fresno County, produces about $1 billion in crops each year. That is more than 20% of the crop value for the No. 1 farming county in the nation.


The court decision, resulting in shut-downs at pumps, already has cost the district about 700,000 acre-feet of water, which would have been pumped into the San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County. Westlands farmers get their water from San Luis Reservoir.


The 700,000 acre-feet represents more water than the district would have received all year from the federal government.


Westlands is not the only district affected. About 30 other districts on the Valley's west side also are struggling with water supply.


Westlands and the other districts are part of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which represents districts covering more than 2 million acres of farmland.


Dan Nelson, authority executive director, said California never has had to deal with a drought when so many options available to farmers "have been denied by administrative, judicial and statutory restrictions."


Mark Borba, a Riverdale grower in Westlands, said crops like almonds, tomatoes and cotton will suffer.


"Yields will fall, quality will decline, fields will be abandoned, trees may die and unemployment will skyrocket," he said.


Farmer Dan Errotabere, a Westlands board member, said many growers will have a difficult time trying to spread out a limited amount of water. "Some will abandon crops to keep others alive," he said.


Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, has scheduled a briefing Monday in Los Banos to talk about the problem.


At that meeting, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates the Central Valley Project, will provide an update on water issues that could include a reduction in this year's allocation of federal water to Westlands and other west-side districts.


That allocation of 45% was announced in February before precipitation levels plummeted.


Bureau spokesman Jeff McCracken said officials expected wetter weather.


"There has not been appreciable rain from March through May," he said.


The crisis is likely to trickle beyond farming.


Earlier this month, residents in Alameda and Contra Costa counties were required to reduce water use by 19% after the East Bay Municipal Utility District imposed water rationing. Golf course managers were required to cut water use by 30%.


Federal water managers said some limited water cutbacks could be expected in cities that rely on Central Valley Project supplies. In the San Joaquin Valley, those cities include Coalinga, Huron, Avenal and Tracy.


But cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield rely on water wells pumping underground supplies, not river water. No rationing has been announced for those cities, though residents and businesses are encouraged to conserve.


California's precipitation season has largely ended.


Valley daytime temperatures this weekend are expected to be in the mid-80s under mostly clear skies.


"We're not going to see any rainfall for a while now," said National Weather Service meteorologist David Spector in Hanford.


Maurice Roos, chief hydrologist for the California Department of Water Resources, said the two-month period of March and April was the driest ever in the 88 years since records have been kept for the Northern Sierra, source of most of the water that flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The delta is the source for many reservoirs, including the San Luis Reservoir.


The city of Sacramento, in those two months, received .15 inch, the lowest since 1850.


In the Valley, precipitation is crucial.


Errotabere said some farming operations will be hurt more than others, depending on their mix of crops. "Some may manage to get through it," he said.#



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