Buy Photo

Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

A field is irrigated in an area near Panama Lane and Fairfax Road southwest of Bakersfield. The drought in California is a threat to California agriculture.

A wet March is yielding benefits for California's water supply, as state and federal officials announced Friday that deliveries to some of their contractors will be increased.

The California Department of Water Resources will increase deliveries to its water contractors from a dismal "zero" to 5 percent of normal allocations for the balance of the year. These water users include urban agencies in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as agricultural water users in Kern County.

State Water Project water users in Kern will now receive 49,137 acre-feet of SWP water during 2014.

One acre-foot is the equivalent of 325,850 gallons of water, or enough water to cover a football field 1-foot deep.

DWR also announced it is canceling a controversial proposal to dam three waterways in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to control salinity intrusion. There will be enough runoff to hold back salinity without the barriers, said DWR director Mark Cowin, although planning and permitting for the project will continue in case conditions change.

Because of low rainfall in December and January, this winter will still rank as the third- or fourth-driest recorded in California, Cowin said. He emphasized it is important to prepare in case next winter is also dry, hence the conservative increase to the water delivery allocation.

"This is all a bit of good news in an otherwise very bleak water year," Cowin said. "I cannot overemphasize the continued need for all Californians to continue to use water as efficiently as possible over the course of the coming dry, hot months."

Kern County's contracted SWP amount is 982,730 acre-feet per year. Even with the allocation increase, the county will still pay for 933,594 acre-feet of water it will not receive in 2014; all SWP contractors must pay for all SWP contract costs whether they receive water or not. The cost is about $69 million.

"Every acre-foot of water is critical to Kern County residents, farms and businesses," said Kern County Water Agency Board of Directors President Ted Page.

One caveat to the relatively good news is that the SWP will not be making those increased deliveries to contractors until after Sept. 1 in an attempt to increase water quality for users in the Santa Clara area.

That will likely mean increased groundwater consumption here in the south valley, acknowledged Cowin.

Also Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced increased water deliveries for its agricultural water contractors and wildlife refuges in the Sacramento Valley. Their water allocations will be increased from 40 percent to 75 percent, which will significantly improve the valley's rice crop as well as habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife.

Tim Johnson, CEO of the California Rice Commission, said the crop will be down about 20 percent, or 100,000 acres, as a result of the 75 percent allocation. But that's better than a 200,000-acre reduction that was projected with a 40 percent water allocation.

Other Reclamation water contractors, including farm irrigation agencies in the San Joaquin Valley, can expect an updated water allocation forecast in seven to 10 days, said regional director David Murillo.