Record Bay-Delta Water Exports = 80% of Maximum Contract Allocations

2011 has been an amazing year for California’s water supply.  California’s upstream reservoirs are still nearly full in mid-July, and the San Luis Reservoir south of the Delta is storing an incredible amount of water, with much of it likely to be saved for next year.  The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California anticipates that “the end-of-year level in Metropolitan's regional storage portfolio is expected to be at an all-time high,” and they have so much water they’re having a hard time storing all of it.  Allocations to many farmers and agribusinesses in the San Joaquin Valley are higher than they have been in years, and California agriculture is thriving

Our colleagues at the Environmental Defense Fund recently concluded that water exports from the Delta are likely to hit record levels this year.  And modeling by the Bureau of Reclamation, summarized below, shows that more water likely will be exported from the Bay-Delta than ever before in the history of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project.  Even with the biological opinions protecting endangered salmon and other species in effect, the CVP and SWP will export a record amount of water from the Delta. 

Total CVP/SWP exports through June 2011

Source: Monthly USBR Fish Reports

4,545,937 Acre Feet

Total CVP/SWP exports July – Sept 2011 (estimated)

Source: USBR May 2011 50% Water Ops Summary

2,076,000 Acre Feet
Total WY 2011 CVP/SWP Exports (estimated) 6,621,937 Acre Feet

6.6 million acre feet is a lot of water: it would be enough to cover all of Los Angeles County with more than 2 feet of water.  It’s also important to keep in mind that this is only a small fraction of the total water diversions for farmers and cities in California, since the majority of water for farmers and cities in California is not exported from the Delta by the SWP and CVP. 

The previous high of 6.41 million acre feet of water exports occurred in 2005, and until this year, water exports from the Delta have exceeded 6 million acre feet only six times: in 1989, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.  Average water exports from the Delta during the 1980s and 1990s were 5 million acre feet, virtually the same amount that can be safely exported under the biological opinions protecting endangered salmon and other species. The record highs in the 2000s coincided with the collapse of the Delta ecosystem, and many independent scientists and agencies, including the State Water Resources Control Board, have recommended significantly increased environmental flows. 

Yet despite the record exports of 2011, the CVP and SWP will not make 100% allocations to all contractors.  While most CVP contractors will get 100% allocations, South of Delta agricultural contractors will receive 80% of their maximum contractual allocations, and State Water Project contractors will receive 80% of their maximum contractual allocations.

(Keep in mind that these 80% allocations underestimate total water deliveries to many CVP and SWP contractors, because many of them are also obtaining what’s known as Article 215 water from the San Joaquin River and/or Article 21 water exports from the Delta.  So contractors like MWD are getting the equivalent of 90% or more of their maximum contract allocation, when you include these “surplus” CVP and SWP supplies.)

How can it be that record exports result in less than maximum contract allocations?  Part of the reason is because the contracts promise much more water than can be delivered.  The State Water Resources Control Board has previously acknowledged that there are as much as eight times more water rights than there is water in an average year.  Of course, in a dry year, there’s far less water to go around.  Talk about subprime water rights…

Another reason is that all contractors now request their maximum contract amounts.  Until 2001 the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California did not regularly request its full contract allocation from the Bay-Delta, and relied on substantial water deliveries from the Colorado River which they haven’t received in recent years (see page 2-78 of the OCAP biological assessment for more info).  This meant that more water was available to the other CVP and SWP contractors historically.  Now that MWD requests its full allocation from the Delta, agricultural contractors have to share water with the millions of people in Los Angeles.  Even so, the water allocation for the 600 farmers in the Westlands Water District is equal to more than half of the allocation for the 19 million people in MWD’s service area. 

    Contract 2011 % 2011 AF
District Customers Maximum Allocation Allocation
Metropolitan Water District 19,000,000 1,911,500 AF 80%                         1,529,200 AF
Westlands Water District 600 1,150,000 AF 80%                            920,000 AF

NRDC has long argued for the reform of CVP contracts, so that farmers and cities can have realistic expectations of water exports and make rational planting and planning decisions.  As obvious as it sounds, the Bureau of Reclamation should not write contracts for more water than the CVP can reliably deliver.  Recent years have brought a constant refrain from water users calling for “full contract deliveries.”  Renewing current unrealistic contract totals would simply lock in decades of future conflicts.   

2011 proves the folly of existing contract amounts: even with record levels of water exports from the Delta, the CVP and SWP can’t deliver maximum contract amounts.  So if you’re expecting 100% contract deliveries for all SWP and CVP contractors in the future, I have some Greek bonds I’d like to sell you at face value.

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