Managing Water in the Sacramento Valley for Multiple Benefits in 2015

Friday, Apr 17th, 2015

With California enduring its fourth consecutive dry year, every drop of water counts and must be stretched as far as possible. In the Sacramento Valley, water resources managers have been working closely with state and federal agencies and our conservation partners to stretch available supplies in creative ways to benefit multiple uses. Water supplies in the Sacramento Valley have all been reduced significantly this year due to the fourth consecutive year of scant rainfall and snowpack in the state, although the December and February storms in Northern California have led to storage in certain reservoirs that is higher than 2014. Throughout the Sacramento Valley, it is important during this dry year that water will be used for multiple purposes, including cities and rural communities, farms, fish, birds and

On the west side of the Sacramento Valley, the settlement contracts along the Sacramento River and the National Wildlife Refuges will be cut back 25 percent in accordance with their contracts. The districts along the Tehama-Colusa Canal currently have a zero allocation for surface water for the second year. In Yolo County, water releases from Yolo County FCWCD’s surface supplies in Clear Lake and Indian Valley will be approximately 60 percent of deliveries in a normal year.

On the east side of the Valley, the settlement contracts along the Feather River will be cut back by 50 percent. In Yuba County, surface supplies will be reduced by an average of 30 percent. Along the Bear River, South Sutter Water District is a supplemental district and will be able to provide fifty percent (50%) of the average surface water allocation this year.

The State Water Board will likely issue curtailment notices soon for all post-1914 water right holders in the Central Valley, prohibiting diversions and water use unless water is: diverted under the contracts mentioned above, from water that is already in surface storage, or is transferred from another water supplier. Depending upon the hydrology, the State Water Board may also consider further curtailments for pre-1914 and possibly even riparian water rights this year.

Photo by Brian Behr

In all areas, farmers and refuge managers are planning a variety of ways to cope with this shortfall, including fallowing some fields, shifting to lower water use crops, and utilizing more groundwater where available.

North State water resources managers and growers have been working hard to maintain the maximum amount of water for area growers and the environment throughout the Sacramento Valley. This will continue to be an extremely challenging year as we manage and safeguard this precious resource.

These dry years have revealed the tremendous value of surface storage for reliable water supplies for all beneficial uses, including cities and rural communities, farms, fish and birds. It is estimated that if Sites Reservoir—a proposed off-stream regulating reservoir on the west-side of the Sacramento Valley–were in place this year, it would have captured an additional 410,000 acre-feet of water from storms this year that would be available for all these beneficial purposes this year. Sites could increase the total Sacramento Valley storage upstream of the Delta (including Shasta, Oroville and Folsom) by 900,000 acre-feet.

The dry years also show the importance of sustainable groundwater resources in areas where surface supplies are not available. In the Sacramento Valley, local agency leaders are building on a solid foundation of sustainable groundwater management and are continuing these efforts by rolling up their sleeves to implement the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) throughout the Sacramento Valley.


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