Priority H20

Recent rains helped replenish most of California’s reservoirs

Remember the California drought? On April 17, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced the Golden State was “out of the woods” when it comes to moving water through the Central Valley Project.

Serving as California’s largest water conservation development under the federal government, the CVP extends from the Cascade Range in the north to the Kern River in the south. The project was built primarily to protect the Central Valley from crippling water shortages and menacing floods, according to the bureau’s website.

Combined with statewide conservation efforts and a generous amount of rain in February and March, Northern California’s reservoirs are in prime condition for summer.

“Indeed, it has been a good year,” bureau South-Central California Area manager Michael Jackson wrote in an email. “Shasta, Folsom, New Melones and San Luis winter reservoirs are at or near capacity. Additionally, the Millerton Reservoir [in Fresno] is anticipated to fill from snowmelt as temperatures warm up later this spring.”

Central Valley and Southern California reservoirs aren’t as replenished.

“Though this year has been extremely rainy and the state has experienced significant precipitation, we still have restrictions on our ability to move water to the south-of-Delta area,” said bureau spokeswoman Lauren Meredith.

The south-of-Delta area includes larger cities such as Tracy, Los Banos and Santa Clara and smaller cities such as Avenal and Coalinga. It also includes large irrigation districts such as Westlands Water District and smaller individual family farms and federal refuges. The bureau was able to allocate only 65% of water to south-of-Delta service contractors this year.

“To boost allocations, we really need strong, late spring precipitation and significant San Joaquin flood flows to balance regulatory restrictions,” Meredith wrote in a follow-up email.

Meanwhile, the federal government and California are in a pitched battle about those flows. On March 28, the U.S. Justice and Interior departments sued the State Water Resources Control Board over its allocations. The state has fired back that more government pumping could divert less water to state-run reservoirs, according to media reports. The litigation is pending.