Central Valley water supply favorable, says Keys, thanks to manmade canals and irrigation ditches

Capital Press staff writer

FRESNO, CA 1/12/03 - If it weren’t for manmade canals and ditches, much of the Golden State would look like a crumbled brown leaf.

Today, though, some of the state reservoirs critical for crop irrigation are much fuller than they have been in years.

That could help as different factions in the state square off to maintain or improve their right to water, said John Keys, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“At least the current weather forecasts are looking pretty good,” Keys told a group of water managers and farmers at a Fresno conference. “There’s a good chance that we are going to be average or above average in the Central Valley.”

Keys has his hand in big water disputes, including the Imperial Basin’s loss of federal water allocation in the southern end of the state and Trinity River issues involving wildlife protection, allocation and environmental restoration to the north.

The weather can’t be counted until it comes, of course. But there are positive signs in terms of water supply, said Keys, who said the issue needs to be kept in context .

n Reservoir storage at Trinity was 119 percent of its 15-year average on Jan. 24, when the feds released their most recent water supply report. Shasta was at 122 percent of its average over the same period; Folsom was 33 percent higher.

n Though the lower half of the state was impacted by drought-like conditions in 2002 that reduced the Colorado River Basin to historical low levels, places like Yuma, Ariz., haven’t had any rain for 31 months.

While Keys was upbeat that natural events like weather patterns were for now favoring farming in California, he was less clear on predicting outcomes of the Imperial Valley and Trinity River water disputes.

The Imperial Irrigation District has challenged a decision by U.S. Interior Secretary Gail Norton to reduce its allocation from the Colorado River from 5.2 million acre feet of water to 4.4 million acre feet in 2003.

“I think it is too soon to see what the outcome will be,” said Keys.

He said enforcement issues on that river’s water had never really been done before and said a lack of consensus on how the allocations might be changed “kept us from ratcheting it down slowly,” resulting in the anticipated drop-off of 15 percent all at once.

Watermaster Jim Irwin at the Fresno Irrigation District, which has municipal and agricultural customers, said a better reading on water supplies should occur in a week following a state Department of Water Resources survey of snowpack levels.

And he said that while some reservoir levels are up, individual regions fare differently. A Fresno reporting station he monitors had recorded 0.39 inches of rain this month by Jan. 27, while the average level for the month is 2 inches.

“What we are seeing now is very similar to what we had last year,” Irwin said of initial water reports.

“You can look good at the beginning of January and not so good later on.”

His group relies on the Kings River for its water source.


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