Federal Water Tap, February 24: California Farmers Get No Water from Federal Canal

Most farmers in California who have contracts with the Central Valley Project, a federal canal system, will get no water this year, according to initial projections by the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the canals.

Contractors that supply water to industries and cities in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, the canal system’s service area, will receive 50 percent of historical use. Wildlife refuges in the valleys will receive 40 percent of their contract. Historical use is often less than the full contract.

California is mired in a record drought, and many reservoirs are near record lows. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which flows into the reservoirs when it melts, is also thin, just 23 percent of normal statewide.

The Bureau of Reclamation is discussing how to encourage further conservation, said Louis Moore, spokesman for the Mid-Pacific region office. Because the government is the wholesaler, these discussions involve the 271 water agencies that contract with the bureau for water.

“We’re trying to manage conservatively so that we don’t end with a crisis,” Moore told Circle of Blue. The bureau already successfully petitioned the California water board to reduce the amount of water released through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“If the snowpack stays status quo and there is no more runoff, we’ll have to make tougher decisions about what to do with water,” Moore said.

Diesel Fuel in Hydraulic Fracturing
Geology and the quality of a well should be considered before allowing diesel fuels to be used in hydraulic fracturing, according to recommendations issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA expects its permit writers to follow the recommendations but they are not required to.

Census of Agriculture
Farmers rode the commodities boom recently, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Agricultural sales rose by 33 percent between 2007 and 2012, to $US 395 billion. The figures come from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. On February 20, the USDA issued a first batch of data from the new census, which is updated every five years. The department will release the final report in May. Detailed irrigation data will come in 2015.

Wasted Food, Wasted Water
Nearly one out of every three pounds of food sold in stores and consumed in homes in the U.S. is wasted, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. This amount does not include the food that spoils on the farm before it reaches the consumer. The report cites research claiming that food waste represents at least a quarter of the water used by agriculture.

Water and Agriculture
The USDA will spend up to $US 30 million over five years to address agriculture’s water challenges. Three areas will be emphasized: ensuring sufficient water supplies, managing nitrogen and phosphorous use, and reducing the harmful effects of chemicals.

Water Infrastructure
The EPA will create a research center to study the next generation of water infrastructure. Applications are due March 10 for the $US 4 million grant.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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