Millerton water releases upset Friant contractors

The Friant Water Authority says its getting the short end of the stick as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced plans to release water from Millerton Lake to benefit wildlife refuges and junior contractors farther west instead of serving growers in the Fresno area.

On May 15, the agency will begin using supplies from the Central Valley Project's Friant Dam to meet contractual obligations with the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Due to the severity of the state's drought, the Bureau said it will be the first time in the history of the Central Valley Project that it has had to provide water from Millerton Lake to address contractual obligations it has held with the Exchange Contractors since 1939.

The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority serves about 240,000 acres of farmland located east of Interstate 5 and west of the San Joaquin River, reaching from Patterson to Mendota.

The Bureau estimates that some 529,000 acre-feet of water will go to the Exchange Contractors using combination of San Joaquin River supplies and CVP water from April through October, while another 178,000 acre-feet will flow to wildlife refuges south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

But the Friant Water Authority, which is still set at a zero water allocation, said the move doesn't make sense as the CVP has 200,000 acre-feet of water in San Luis Reservoir and increased storage in Shasta in which to substitute to the Exchange Contractors.

"This doesn't need to happen," said Ronald Jacobsma, Friant Water Authority General Manager. "Despite the dry conditions, enough water is stored to meet the Exchange Contractors' supply needs, which in turn would make available a small amount of water for Friant's Class 1 contractors and prevent at least $3 billion in economic losses from occurring in the citrus industry alone."

The releases stem from an agreement by the Exchange Contractors In the late 1930s to exchange water received under their long-held senior water rights from the San Joaquin and Kings rivers for water delivered from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through the Delta-Mendota Canal by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The contract generally provides that whenever the Bureau is unable to satisfy the contractual entitlement from the Delta-Mendota Canal, that the agency would provide water to the Exchange Contractors from Friant Dam.

It is the first year that the Bureau of Reclamation has announced it was unable to provide substitute water to the Exchange Contractors.