Friant Users Desperate For Alternative Water Supplies
May 28, 2014
A tiny amount of water has begun flowing in the Friant-Kern Canal as Friant Division contractors and users scramble to try to mitigate their looming losses and drought conditions by acquiring water through groundwater pump-ins, transfers and exchange programs. Friant Water Authority says that relief is a fraction of the need being felt by growers and communities alike. “Those programs are expensive and supplies are difficult to come by,” said Friant Water Authority General Manager Ronald D. Jacobsma. “While helping some, those programs fall far short of the critical water needs we have targeted as being 200,000 acre-feet. That is the amount upon which Friant barely got by in 1977. This year is wetter but the regulatory environment has left Friant with no project water at all. It’s incomprehensible.”
EXTREMELY LIMITED SUPPLIES
Among the extremely limited supplies of water that have been arranged are a few thousand acre-feet of water left unused when the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’sinterim fishery flows were suspended in early February. That emergency “health and safety” supply is being delivered, through a banking arrangement with the Fresno Irrigation District, to four East Side communities with no municipal water supply except the Friant-Kern Canal – Orange Cove, Lindsay, Strathmore and Terra Bella.
In addition, a total of several thousand acre-feet of water is being made available to Friant agricultural districts able to pay the higher costs associated with temporarily banking the unreleased restoration water. The City of Fresno has arranged to transfer 710 acre-feet of that water to the Orange Cove Irrigation District. Some carryover water still stored in Millerton Lake along with a small amount of “loss” water needed to operate the canal is sporadically being released into the Friant-Kern. A number of growers have received permission from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to pump local groundwater into the canal and transport it for use on other properties they own.
Continuing drought conditions, meanwhile, are beginning to be magnified as the typically hot and rainless valley summer begins. Despite a few mostly weak spring storms that fractionally improved runoff, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Drought Mitigation Center continues to list all of California as drought impacted. The Friant Division is fully within the hardest hit drought region.
It doesn’t much matter in the midst of drought with Tule River runoff predicted to be just 10% of average during the current water year but full storage capacity has been restored in Lake Success east of Porterville, as reported by Friant Water Authority. Success Dam had been under a safety-of-dams storage restriction. For a time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was considering construction of a new Success Dam to address the concerns. Corps officials last year announced that the dam’s safety was in reality not a problem, based on new studies of the structure’s strength and underlying geology.
Now, the capacity is back at more than 83,000 acre-feet although actual storage is 13,800 acre-feet because of the drought. In July, the Corps plans to release a baseline risk assessment report detailing the dam’s safety findings. That report could lead to a decision on whether or not to construct control facilities to further increase capacity.