State May 'Transfer' Farm Water to Cities
So, while farmers were being told by Feinstein and Boxer that transfers would be a good thing for them, it isn't necessarily so.
Feb 20, 2014
One of the provisions of the Feinstein-Boxer drought bill "would make it easier to transfer water through the Delta from wetter areas of the state to drier areas." While that and other issues were being discussed with the Senators and the President in Fresno on Friday the California Department of Water Resources announced that they "and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation together filed a petition with the State Water Resources Control Board to exchange (transfer) water within the areas served by the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project."
Monday the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation notified the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors that they will receive only 40% of their water allocation so that the state can use the water "for public health and safety purposes" just in case the drought situation doesn't improve. "Public health and safety purposes" means people and cities are first in line. We have no problem with this because we believe people are more important than farms, just like we believe farms are more important than smelt. The problem is that environmental policies have reduced available water supplies to exceedingly low levels, levels that might leave some cities without water. To avoid that, the Bureau has announced that federally contracted farm water that has always been available to the Exchange Contractors will now be available to the state if "health and safety" are at stake. So, while farmers were being told by Feinstein and Boxer that transfers would be a good thing for them, it isn't necessarily so. In essense, farm water will be 'transferred' away from farms.
The situation is so unique that the state doesn't even have a name for it. The Exchange Contractors have always received at least a 75% allocation even in "critically dry" years. This year is worse than "critically dry" and the state and federal water agencies are wading into new territory, mixing federal farm water with what might be much needed state water for human consumption. You can bet the environmentalists aren't about to let humans go dry or thirsty. That would get people's attention and might even start turning some heads about what's really going on with water policy in the State of California. So, once again, environmental policy will dictate farmers feel the brunt of the shortage. The feds will rob Peter (federal farm water) to pay Paul (state water for cities) and hope no one notices how close to the line they cut the supply because of reckless environmental policies.
Remember, the 40% they're promising to the Exchange Contractors doesn't exist at this time, and the announcement looks like a warning to the Exchange Contractors so they'll know what the new rules will be. By the way, it still needs to rain for any of this water to materialize. On the Exchange Contractors website it says, “In the event that the Bureau is unable to make its contracted deliveries of substitute water to the Exchange Contractors, the Exchange Contractors have reserved the right to receive their water from the San Joaquin River to satisfy their historic water rights.” So, if cities and people need the Exchange Contractors water, the E.C.'s will take Friant water.
There is now no water to be had from the San Joaquin River because we flushed a lot of it away for S.J. River Restoration. But, just in case it does rain, the Friant system can count on the Exchange Contractors claiming their due. Farmers should realize where they stand when it comes to water in California. Some farmers are in front of other farmers, but all farmers are last in line behind people and then fish. We haven't seen any notification that environmentalists will be asked to reduce their water usage, which is the largest share of water usage in the state.
Reclamation notifies San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority that they will only receive 40% of their entitlement, far below their contractual 75% critical year entitlement
The Bureau of Reclamation has notified the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority (Exchange Contractors) that due to the exceptionally dry conditions, the Exchange Contractors will only be receiving 40% (or 336,000 acre-feet) this year, far below their 75% (or 650,000 acre-feet) critical year entitlement that is specified in their contracts.
The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority serves approximately 240,000 acres of prime farmland located east of I-5 and west of the San Joaquin River, spanning from Patterson to Mendota. The Exchange Contractors are comprised of the Central California Irrigation District, the San Luis Canal Company, the Firebaugh Canal Water District, and the Columbia Canal Company, and together, they hold some of the oldest water rights in the Central Valley, dating back to the establishment of the Miller and Lux cattle empire in the late 1800s.
During construction of the Central Valley Project, development of the Friant Project between Chowchilla and Bakersfield depended upon water from the San Joaquin River being diverted at Friant Dam, rather than flowing downstream to the west to satisfy the established water rights of Miller and Lux. So the government asked the heirs of Miller and Lux to agree to exchange their water from the San Joaquin and Kings River for water instead from the Sacramento River that would be delivered them through Reclamation facilities. The water right holders agreed, and the necessary agreements were reached in 1939. Those agreements guaranteed the Exchange Contractors 100% of their contractual water allotment of 840,000 acre feet, except in critical years where the amount is reduced to 75%, or 650,000 acre-feet.
Those agreements, however, did not contemplate the drastically dry conditions the state is currently experiencing, and in the letter, Reclamation cites the need to conserve water for public health and safety purposes as the reason for the 40% allocation, instead of the contractual 75% allocation for a critically dry year.
The letter foresees further difficulties on the horizon:
“ … the SWRCB will be conducting workshops to obtain additional, up to date information on the operations of the state and federal water projects. Based on the uncertainty of these actions, Reclamation, along with other junior and possibly senior water right appropriators may be compelled to comply with the curtailment notices and other orders from the SWRCB. This could further complicate Reclamation’s ability to service all CVP users, including deliveries under your contract.”
This situation has not occurred before. It is important to note that the Exchange Contractors did not abandon their San Joaquin River water rights, but instead, agreed not to exercise those rights if water deliveries were continued by Reclamation through other means. The Exchange Contractors website states: “In the event that the Bureau is unable to make its contracted deliveries of substitute water to the Exchange Contractors, the Exchange Contractors have reserved the right to receive their water from the San Joaquin River to satisfy their historic water rights.”
Whether they will choose to do so remains to be seen.
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