The story of the Dos Palos water supply begins with the development of water rights and agriculture by Miller and Lux in the late 1800’s. In about 1890, Bernhard Marks worked a deal with Miller and Lux to attract approximately 40 families from the Midwest to a new farming “colony” in Merced County. The site was located near the present location of South Dos Palos and adjacent to the then new San Pablo and Tulare Railroad.

The benefit to this new location was that it was conveniently located in order to move agricultural products to market. The downside to this location, however, was quickly apparent: the soils, combined with brackish and very shallow groundwater in the area, made farming essentially impossible.

To help these farmers, Henry Miller relocated the Colony north to the area around the present location of the City of Dos Palos. In addition, in the mid 1890’s, Miller and Lux caused the San Joaquin and Kings River Canal Company (now CCID) to construct the Colony Canal System to deliver high quality San Joaquin River water to the area to support the new Colony farms and community.

The City of Dos Palos was first incorporated in 1935 and immediately entered into an agreement with the Canal Company formalizing the connection of the municipal system with the Colony Canal for their water supply.

The water supply relationship between CCID and the city continues today, with CCID providing the municipal water supply for Dos Palos. Following the Exchange Contract and the substitution of Delta-Mendota Canal water into the canals, Dos Palos constructed a pipeline from the California Aqueduct to a new treatment plant to access better quality water. CCID continues to supply the water by allowing the water to be wheeled to the city through the San Luis Forebay and California Aqueduct.

Since 1978, there have been a series of new regulations that have severely impacted the water allocations upon which the agricultural industry in the Central Valley relies upon. The intentions of these regulations vary, and the evidence of the effectiveness of the different approaches is somewhat inconclusive, but the effect on the reliability of water distributions is clear. Overall, water deliveries and availability have decreased significantly from the State and Federal projects causing real hardship for the small cities in the region and the agricultural industry.

What is really challenging is that the reliability of these water supplies swings wildly from year to year, with little predictability about what the following year will look like. This instability not only makes it difficult for growers to plan ahead but causes environmental issues as well. In the City of Dos Palos, during critically dry years when flows in the Aqueduct and Delta-Mendota Canal are at a minimum, the growth of moss and algae builds up in the system impacting their ability to treat the water and resulting in outages in water supply. The city has been able to secure state grant funding to update the treatment plant, which thankfully will solve the algae treatment issue. What is still needed to ensure reliable local water supplies into the future is for us to advocate for state protection of water rights and to support construction of regional drought reliability projects.

Chris White

Executive director. San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority