In our previous articles, we have described how the water supplies of our local communities depend on agricultural industry. The Exchange Contractors member agencies border Mendota, Firebaugh, Dos Palos, Los Banos, Gustine and Newman.
The water supplies for our communities depend on a sustainable and viable water supply for the Exchange Contractors, whether it’s surface water supplied for treatment, as in the case of the City of Dos Palos, or healthy groundwater aquifers that supply well water for the other five communities
Even with our very strong historical water rights and Exchange Contract, the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) was unable to deliver our reduced drought year allocation from the Delta-Mendota Canal system in five years out of the last 10 years.
This occurred first in 2014, which was the first time ever since the project came online in 1951. The project was designed to deliver about 10 times our drought year allocation south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to our west side.
That was also the first year that the United States Bureau of Reclamation had to purposely supplement water supplies from Millerton Lake as required under the Exchange Contract. This water shortage occurred also in 2015, 2016, 2021 and again this year in 2022.
For our neighboring water districts, who hold agricultural service contracts dating back to the 1950’s and 1960’s, the shortages are having even more profound impacts.
What is really challenging is that the reliability of these water allocations swings wildly from year to year. While it is true that the annual average water allocation has been almost cut in half since 1990, that figure is just an average. In reality, the allocations vary greatly from year to year with little predictability about what the following year will look like.
This instability makes it difficult for growers to plan ahead for expansion or future yields. For example, districts like San Luis Water District located west of us, Del Puerto Water District to our north, or Panoche and Westlands Water Districts situated to our south, received 0% allocations five out of the last ten years, and a 100% allocation in 2017. That is an all but impossible situation to plan for.
So, what are the Exchange Contractors doing in collaboration with our neighbors to conserve limited resources in times of drought and prepare for future droughts? The ongoing drought requires innovation and new sustainability efforts to make more efficient use of the limited water we have.
Since 1989, over $200 million has been invested in conservation funding. They include smaller, targeted efforts, like our $100 million On-Farm Conservation Programs, which provide grants and low-interest loans to help individual farms transition to more sustainable practices like drip-irrigation and high-efficiency micro sprinkler irrigation.
We’re also investing in technological innovation, such as new hardware and software that remotely controls flows within canals, increasing delivery reliability while reducing and eliminating wasteful water spills.
These investments also include large projects such as the proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Project, which will be a critically important water conservation and storage project that is proposed to be built west of Patterson and south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The proposed reservoir will help promote water reliability and environmental sustainability while solving the issue of recurring flooding in surrounding areas.
The Exchange Contractors, in partnership with Del Puerto Water District, are developing the reservoir project. When completed, the 800-acre reservoir would store up to 82,000 acre-feet of water.
The project is one of many major infrastructure investments that the Exchange Contractors are leading to address ongoing water shortages and ensure that the Central Valley is resilient and environmentally sustainable for years to come.
Other projects include our Orestimba Creek and the Los Banos Creek projects which, once completed, will create recharge and storage ponds, harnessing previously evaporating water to store for use in dry years and relieving demand on groundwater pumping.
We’re committed to being good stewards of the water resources we receive, and we are continuing to invest in sustainable water systems that prepare us for the future.