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Calif. water allocations cut to zero

By Carlo Falco
Published On: Feb 24 2014 08:35:00 PM CST
PALO CEDRO, Calif. -

The record drought continues to make things difficult for the NorthState farmer.

The Department of Reclamation has decided that the allocations to water service contractors will be zero.  That means that farmers in the Bella Vista and Clear Creek water districts will have to do with water stored in federal and state reservoirs this summer.

That would be very bad for local farmers who call water allocations a necessity for their livelihood.  And even if California does get some decent rain the allocations likely won’t change.

The lack of water will mean that some farmers could have acres of dry pasture and farmland left unused.  And the drought will affect more than just farms that grow crops.

Shannon Wooden says that the lack of rain could hurt both his cattle ranch and bee yard.

“The lack of rain means the lack of growth for any of your plants to produce honey,” said Wooden at his farm in Palo Cedro.  “What affects the cows equally affects the bees as well.”

With no rain, the bees will suffer because they can’t find enough flowers to produce honey.  And without that honey, the bee colonies run the risk of falling ill due to malnutrition.  In addition, Wooden said the bees could cost him money if they can’t make enough honey to survive the summer.

The Bureau of Reclamation acknowledges the difficulty of this season.  They have been contending with the lowest rainfall totals in recorded history.  This year lake Shasta is running only 53 percent of their seasonal average, and the reservoir itself only contains 37 percent of the lake’s capacity.

Essentially, they’re 1.5 million acre feet short of the water they need to make it through this coming summer.

“The odds of a full recovery to our normal water storage content is probably unlikely,” said Brian Person, Bureau of Relamation area manager. “We’d like to see at least a partial recovery [but] the snow pack has been abysmally low.”

That snow pack, or lack thereof, will play a role later this year when the snow would normally melt.  With no snow, the only water California can use is the water already in the reservoirs.  And many of those reservoirs are dangerously low right now, never mind when the heat of summer and dry north winds kick start evaporation.

The Bureau of Reclamation said that most municipalities won’t see a change in their water allocations.  But a few, like the City of Shasta Lake, will see their water allocation drop to half of their historic average use.  That average is determined by averaging the last three years of normal precipitation years, omitting any with water allocation restrictions.  The Bureau will also consider what is needed for healthy consumption and will always provide the greater amount of water.  Meaning if  50 percent of the three year average is lower than what is needed for healthy consumption of a municipality the allocation will provide enough water to maintain public health, or in the case of the inverse, it will provide the greater amount.

The Bureau also said that the allocations are a sliding scale and that if the rains come hard and fast, the water allocations to central valley farmers could be reinstated.  But until that happens, practice your rain dance and pray for rain.