Allocations Show a Better Water Year for California

Allocations Show a Better Water Year for California

Thankfully, 2011 is shaping up to be a better water year than the past several years, which is great news for farmers, fishermen, cities, and the environment.  The Central Valley Project is estimating it will deliver more than 7.1 million acre feet to farmers and cities throughout California, which is around 75% of the CVP’s total maximum contract amounts.  The State Water Project is estimating it will deliver 60% of maximum contract amounts of 4.23 million acre-feet.  Together, that’s nearly 10 million acre-feet of water that will be drawn for our rivers and streams for consumptive use this year by the SWP and CVP.    

These allocations also look pretty good for California’s farmers, who receive the vast majority of the State’s water supplies.  Taken together, the CVP and SWP will export nearly 2.5 million acre feet of water from the Bay-Delta estuary to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, including the powerful Westlands Water District.  In addition, the CVP will deliver another 1.7 MAF from the Stanislaus and San Joaquin Rivers to other farmers in the Valley. Altogether, the CVP and SWP estimate they will deliver more than 4.2 MAF of water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley (see table below).


CVP and SWP Estimated Water Deliveries to San Joaquin Valley Farmers

Exchange Contractors

881,023 acre feet

South of Delta Agricultural Contractors

879,267 acre feet

Eastside Contractors and Tri-Dam Settlement

755,000 acre feet

State Water Project San Joaquin Valley Contractors

684,000 acre feet

Friant Class I

800,000 acre feet

Friant Class II

210,221 acre feet


4,209,511 acre feet

Most of these farmers (including Friant Class I, the Exchange Contractors, and Eastside Contractors) will get 100% of their maximum contract allocations or water rights.  Some farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have experienced cutbacks during the recent drought, although many other farmers received 100% of their supplies during the drought(including most farmers in the Sacramento Valley and senior water rights holders in the San Joaquin Valley). And deliveries from the water projects only account for a fraction of the irrigated farmland in the Valley – many farmers have water rights on the Kings, Merced, San Joaquin, and other rivers.

Looking at the numbers another way, the CVP and SWP are planning to deliver nearly 1 million acre feet more water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley (2.44 MAF) than to the 19 million people who live in Southern California (1.57 MAF).  

Despite this much-improved outlook, a few politicians have recently tried to argue there’s no water for farms in California.  (Never waste an opportunity to try to create a crisis.)

Not only are farmers and cities getting pretty good allocations this year, but it remains to be seen just how wet this year will be.  Despite the big early storms, January has been extremely dry, and California has only received 66% of its annual precipitation for the year – meaning that if we don’t get a lot more snow and rain, 2011 will end up a below normal water year.  2011 is very unlikely to be a wet year, but if we get more rain and snow, the water allocation picture should improve even more. 

Yet even with this outlook, I’m skeptical that we’re ever hear the politicians say that they’re satisfied with the amount of water being delivered from California’s rivers and streams.  This is because, at the root, California’s water rights system is totally oversubscribed, so expectations are far beyond what nature can ever provide.  The State Water Resources Control Board has reported that there are 8 times more water rights than there is water in an average year.  The SWP and CVP have promised more water than they can realistically can deliver, and that’s why we’ve argued that contracts need to be reformed to provide realistic estimates of water supplies, so farmers and cities can plan appropriately – rather than waiting for “paper water” (the term used by the California Court of Appeal in a 2000 case, in which the Court determined that SWP contracted for more water than can be delivered, with contracts for water that exist only on paper, or “paper water.”). 

With paper water, there truly is “nor any drop to drink,” to quote Coleridge.  But for most folks, 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty good water year. 

That’s good news, except for people who are trying to manufacture a crisis.