Somach Simmons and Dunn, Attorneys at Law Somach Simmons & Dunn | Attorneys at Law

Subscribe to our eAlerts

Please complete the form below to subscribe and recieve our monthly eAlerts via email.

April 8, 2024  |  Written by Kelly M. Doyle

The Central Valley Project Water Supply Allocation Forecast: What Factors into Reclamation’s Determination?

Following back-to-back wet winters bringing torrential rainstorms and record-breaking blizzards, water users throughout California may have cause for optimism when it comes to their water supply for 2024. After an initial conservative Central Valley Project (CVP) water allocation forecast in February, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) recently announced an additional increase in CVP water deliveries. The CVP is a federally owned and operated water project that supplies approximately 7 million acre-feet of water per year to millions of people throughout the state. CVP water is delivered to users that have contracts with Reclamation to meet municipal, industrial, or agricultural water demands.

The major groups of CVP contractors include water rights contractors or settlement contractors (Sacramento River Settlement Contractors and San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors), North of Delta and South of Delta water service and repayment contractors, and Central Valley Refuge contractors. Reclamation’s water supply allocation forecast provided increases in contract supply to all classes of CVP contractors. For example, all North of Delta contractors, including agricultural, urban, and settlement contractors, can once again expect 100% of their CVP contract total for the 2024 water year.

However, while North of Delta contractors are assured reliable water supply from the CVP, contractors South of Delta, particularly agricultural contractors, still have cause for concern. Though this announcement raised agricultural South of Delta allocations from 15% of their contract amount to 35%, the current percentage is still lower than expected, given that an 80% allocation was announced for South of Delta contractors this time last year. Additionally, CVP reservoir storage capacity continues to rise, with Shasta Dam, New Melones Lake, and the San Luis Reservoir all over 80% storage capacity.

These improved hydrological conditions seem to indicate higher allocations for South of Delta agricultural contractors, but the forecast remains conservative. Though it should be noted that Reclamation will potentially announce additional allocation increases in early April, the uncertainty endures for farmers looking for reliable water supplies to grow their crops. Given this uncertainty, there is considerable interest as to how Reclamation calculates CVP water supply allocations in a given water year.

To determine the amount of CVP water allocated across all classes of CVP contractors, Reclamation must consider a wide range of factors. As mentioned above, hydrological conditions like increased reservoir storage and snowpack account for a large portion of the analysis. However, environmental requirements also play a role in determining how much CVP water is allocated in a given year.

State water quality requirements such as the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Bay-Delta Plan), can result in the implementation of pumping restrictions on CVP water that affects Reclamation’s ability to meet its contractual obligations. In the past, the Bay-Delta Plan has generally required Reclamation to meet water quality and flow objectives in the Delta to support fish and wildlife populations as well as decrease salinity levels. As a result, this requirement can affect the timing and amount of water to be exported from the Delta, resulting in lower water deliveries for South of Delta CVP contractors. The current iteration of the Bay-Delta Plan is in the process of being updated as environmental stakeholders continue to call for increased Delta flows to protect California’s endangered salmon population. While the Bay-Delta Plan updates have not been officially implemented, it is possible that Reclamation’s conservative allocations to South of Delta agricultural contractors are reflective of the potential reality of releasing larger amounts of water into the Delta and its tributaries to meet flow objectives.

Additionally, federal environmental policy plays a role in CVP water supply allocation forecasting. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has listed several fish species in the Delta as endangered, resulting in greater restrictions on water flows to CVP contractors. Under Section 7 of the ESA, Reclamation is required to consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a federal agency action, such as operation of the CVP, is likely to jeopardize the existence of a listed ESA species. If operation of the CVP is likely to jeopardize a listed species, then modifications to CVP operations are a possibility, which could also factor into Reclamation’s water supply allocation forecast.

Finally, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) has led to changes in CVP operations as it formally established fish and wildlife protections as an official purpose of the CVP. The CVPIA provided water allocations to fish and wildlife protection, leading to decreased water availability for agricultural and urban contractors.

Though the state continues to see improved hydrological conditions following abnormally wet winters, Reclamation’s obligations to environmental regulations continue to play a role in its calculations to determine CVP water supply allocations. Given the unpredictability surrounding these regulations, Reclamation’s conservative allocations to South of Delta agricultural contractors could be a result of this uncertainty. However, the rainy season is not yet over, and additional allocation increases are a strong possibility given recent storms. In the meantime, South of Delta farmers will need to wait and see what the next round of allocation announcements will bring.

For more information or with questions, please contact:

Somach Simmons & Dunn provides the information in its Environmental Law & Policy Alerts and on its website for informational purposes only. This general information is not a substitute for legal advice, and users should consult with legal counsel for specific advice. In addition, using this information or sending electronic mail to Somach Simmons & Dunn or its attorneys does not create an attorney-client relationship with Somach Simmons & Dunn.

Read more news and alerts »