Two-thirds of California’s total rainfall occurs in Northern California and two-thirds of California’s population lives south of the Delta.
In California, we have two water projects that the Central Valley and Southern California depend on for their surface water deliveries: the Central Valley Project (a federal project) and the State Water Project. Dating back to the 1900s, the flooding Northern California experienced had devastating consequences, hence farmers and taxpayers helped fund the sprawling network of canals and reservoirs which allow for quick and easy movement of water around the state for storage purposes.
Three months into 2017, any Californian would agree this year has been a particularly wet year. Pictures of the Oroville Dam in Northern California overflowing into communities due to the abundance of rainwater will be fresh on our minds throughout the year.
Despite recent higher-than-average precipitation, California still hasn’t fully recovered from drought. As measured by a network of monitoring wells, the state’s groundwater basins remain largely depleted from five years ago, when the drought began.
The California Department of Water Resources reported that, as of March 20, the statewide average snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada was 44 inches, nearly double compared to 25 inches last year. Precipitation is currently 199 percent of the seasonal average to date for the Sierra Nevada for this point in the water year.
Despite these record precipitation reports, on March 22, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the Central Valley Project allotted farmers a mere 65 percent of their contracted water allocations for 2017 despite farmers paying for 100 percent allocation every year for surface water delivery.
In a year when massive floods and overflowing reservoirs are front-page news, farmers are expected to be thankful for the dismal 65 percent allocation. The Central Valley (comprised of eight counties) is responsible for 74 percent of the state’s agricultural production. According to the Kern Economic Development Corporation, one in every five jobs in the San Joaquin Valley is directly related to agriculture.
Our dependence on surface water deliveries is crucial in order to refrain from pumping water from the groundwater basin. So who is getting the 100 percent water allocation? You guessed it: the Wildlife Refuges are getting 100 percent allocation as they have most years dating back to 1996, even through drought years.
Fresh water continues to get pumped out to sea year after year while having minimal or no impact to assisting smelt or salmon populations. Pressure on our groundwater basin is largely the result of little to no surface water delivered, and this is proven year after year.
Poor water allocations to farmers have never been about the California drought. It was always about a group of environmental policies which continue to outweigh our need for locally grown food and a robust economy that thrives on the Central Valley’s agricultural industry.