East Side Farmers Also in Dire Shape

East Side Farmers Also in Dire Shape

October 1, 2013

Like Westside, Eastside is Dire
Environmental Releases Hurting Farmers, Cities

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Friant-Kern Canal Providing Water to East Side Growers
While severely reduced water allocations on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley are hurting many growers in federal water districts such as Westlands, San Luis and Panoche, if no water at all is delivered next year, growers could be completely forced out of business. And the Eastside of the Valley has huge problems as well. 

In the Eastside’s portion of the Central Valley Project—the Friant Division—the situation is also growing dire. Basically, this has been a dry year throughout the Valley.  The Eastside farmers have received 22% of their overall water supply in terms of full-contract allotments. This is nearly as grim as the situation seen in the federal water districts on the Westside.

Most of this year’s Eastside supply curtailments result from severe drought conditions that have gripped the San Joaquin River watershed northeast of Fresno over the past two years. Longer-term Eastside supply reductions, if they were to be as severe as those experienced on the Westside, have the potential for greater severe impacts. “Actually it could be worse for the Eastside because it is mostly trees; you cannot stop watering trees,” said Mario Santoyo, assistant general manager of the Friant Water Authority.

Friant’s declared supply is 496,000 acre-feet, all of which is allocated for holders of Class 1 contracts. The San Joaquin River, which supplies the Friant Division, is expected to generate 851,000 acre-feet by the time the current water year ends September 30. But a big portion of that flow occurred late in 2012. Dry conditions since January 1, 2013, resulted in below average runoff during the peak April-July snowmelt period, which measured about 519,000 acre-feet.

Mario Santoyo
The Friant supply was reduced not only by drought, but also by interim flows of about 200,000 acre-feet released from Friant Dam under the San Joaquin River Restoration Program. Santoyo noted, “That water would have been available for beneficial use for crops or cities. That water was to benefit salmon, but there are no salmon in the San Joaquin River,” noted Santoyo. These interim flows are considered experimental. The declared Friant supply of 496,000 acre-feet is for water remaining after restoration and riparian pumper demands are met.

According to a statement by Families Protecting the Valley: “It’s another `big gulp' on the Eastside.  It's the 200,000 acre-feet we've lost to the San Joaquin River Restoration, water being wasted because the river isn't ready to be restored, but it's being sent anyway.  We need to point out it's not just the Westside that's in trouble.  Stopping the SJ River Restoration would be like increasing Millerton by 200,000 acre-feet, and it wouldn't cost a dime.  It would save money, and make sense.  And common sense can be just as effective as new infrastructure.” 

Friant Water Authority covers portions of Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern Counties. A good portion of its recharge and other beneficial water uses occur in Tulare and Kern Counties. Also, the City of Fresno and Fresno Irrigation District (FID) in Fresno County use Friant water for recharge and other purposes.

“Water released for restoration certainly has had an impact on Friant’s overall water availability this year,” said Santoyo. He noted, however, that due to natural drought conditions, there would not have been any Class 2 available in 2013, even if there were no interim restoration flows. Class 2 water is Friant’s supplemental supply, which is typically used for groundwater recharge activity.

These basins recharge the groundwater, taking pressure off the over-drafting agricultural pumps for irrigation water. “Without the recharge, we will continue to overdraft groundwater. Conditions on the Eastside will continue to be poor until we create some additional storage to prevent that water from going to the ocean,” said Santoyo.

Santoyo noted a sobering thought, “If these environmental water flows continue, the only hope we have is to build a dam at Temperance Flat, upriver, behind the Friant Dam. If we don’t build Temperance Flat, the future of the Eastside will not be as productive as it could be,” he said.

“Valley cities will have their own challenges as we move down the road. The Eastside relies on conjunctive use of surface and water, and that includes cities. Most Valley cities rely on using groundwater that moves from agricultural districts once it is recharged. But, if recharging is curtailed by a lack of surface water availability, the water table will decline under use by cities as well as farmland. It’s like everything else; unless we are aware of what’s happening, and unless we do something to prevent it from becoming a crisis, we will be in a crisis,” Santoyo warned.

He noted that the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir is as important as the Delta’s twin tunnels. Groundwater recharge depends on our ability to capture surplus flows. Unfortunately, the recharge process is more sluggish than flood runoff because only so much water can be conveyed to recharge sites, and percolation into the water table is slow.

“We had better do something on the Eastside if we want to prevent a major crisis in our Valley,” said Santoyo. “It’s not an Eastside problem; it’s not a Westside program; it’s a Central Valley problem, and it’s an agricultural problem.”

Pressure Needs to Be Applied

We have to encourage legislators to push back on some of these environmental constraints.

Santoyo questioned whether there has been enough “pushback”. “I don’t think people from the Valley, including their legislators, have countered supply curtailments. They could have been all over the Bureau of Reclamation, much like when Senator Dianne Feinstein threatened Secretary Salazar to get us to 40% in 2011, and he did it. Feinstein said, ‘Either you do it administratively, or I will do it legislatively.’ Without such pressure, Salazar wouldn’t have delivered.”

Santoyo said that we need to apply that pressure, and “if it is not applied at the right time, it’s too late,” he noted.

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