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Drought and the Mid-Pacific Region

Late Rain, Snow Increase Water Allocations

interactive image:  photo - snow came late in the season; click for larger photo
Snow came late in the season.

Water management in the semi-arid, Mid-Pacific Region is a challenge due to increasing needs, coupled with addressing fishery and environmental decline. For the past three years, a drought has added to the challenge and left communities, farmers and others in need of economic relief.

The Region experiences variable rain and snowfall from season to season and year to year. The Region sometimes has dry springs, but March and April can also be very wet months. Early in 2010, storms brought enough rain and improved snowpack to California that it had a near-average water year, allowing increased water allocations.

Reclamation worked with its partners in managing water supplies, moving water where it was needed most, providing more certainty for growers for the year ahead, installing wells to supply additional water in some areas, expanding water recycling programs, idling land, and working toward long-term, overall solutions in partnership with the state.

interactive image:  photo - A snow survey measures the depth of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada; click for larger photo
A snow survey measures the depth of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

Transferring Water

In 2010, continuing drought and low reservoir storage levels created the need for some areas of California to supplement water supplies with transfers. The Region facilitated movement of water between willing sellers and buyers who needed to supplement supplies. The Region worked cooperatively with the state of California and water contractors to expedite transfers, which included taking advantage of available water and facility capacity.

The Region facilitated water transfers among contractors north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (38,138 acre-feet) and among south-of-Delta contractors (433,639 acre-feet). Water transfers and exchanges were also approved with non-CVP contractors, primarily in southern California (265,485 acre-feet), as individual transactions.

The Region and water contractors had developed a program to transfer water between willing sellers north of the Delta to willing buyers in dry agricultural areas south of the Delta. But the program did not go into effect due to improved hydrology and the need to commit Delta pumping capacity to move increased flows into San Luis Reservoir, an off-stream storage reservoir serving south-of-Delta water service contractors in the western San Joaquin Valley.

Improving Water Resource Management

interactive image:  photo - Farmland fallowed in Merrill, Oregon; click for larger photo
Farmland fallowed in Merrill, Oregon.

The Region’s responsibilities include water resource management. More efficient water use is a key component of water resource management strategy.

Reclamation’s WaterSMART (Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow) program is intended to address challenges posed by drought, as well as by climate change, energy demands, an expanding population, and increased environmental needs. Projects range from simply using pipes instead of open ditches to convey water, to technical undertakings such as desalting research. In 2010, the Region’s WaterSMART actions included awarding 31 water conservation and efficiency grants. The Region also met the milestones of other programs such as the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Supply Study and Facilities Act of 1992/Title XVI, the Water Conservation Field Services Program, and the CALFED Bay-Delta Program’s Water Use Efficiency Project.

The Region, through the Best Management Practices Program, provides technical assistance to contractors and refuge managers to complete water management plans and monitors them for compliance. In 2010, the Region approved seven new water management plans and reviewed 72 updated management plans.

The Region’s Drought Relief Program included the award of 14 grants, from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, to northern California and western Nevada tribes. The projects included drilling wells, laying pipelines, and installing pumps to provide a reliable water supply during droughts.

Fallowing, Cover Crops, Federal Aid

interactive image:  photo - Idled land near Klamath Falls, Oregon; click for larger photo
Idled land near Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Congressional reports estimated that the drought forced the fallowing of more than 400,000 acres in the Central Valley. California’s representatives in the U.S. Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer, announced securing $150 million in funds to assist farmers with disaster relief, including cover crops and erosion control on idled land. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had declared 24 of California’s 58 counties as disaster counties due to drought conditions.

The Klamath Project, in far northern California and southern Oregon, experienced its fifth worst drought since 1961. Conditions affected or idled a quarter of the 200,000 total irrigable acres in the project. Early in the 2010 water year, the Region’s Klamath Basin Area Office developed strategies to ensure all stakeholders were informed and involved in decisions. Reclamation also provided $10 million for water conservation and drought relief efforts. More than $8 million of the funds went to land idling, groundwater pumping, and opportunities to improve water management strategies.

March 31, 2011