A blueprint for managing California water supplies during the 2014 drought indicates that enough water is now in storage to provide for human health and safety through the year, as well as meet mandated fisheries and habitat protection.
However, the drought operations management plan does not specify water for agriculture.
The 156-page plan, prepared jointly by state and federal agencies, addresses federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project operations, and spells out detailed approaches to balancing fisheries, habitat and human requirements in the event of a fourth dry year in 2015.
"The plan is striking in what it omits," said California Farm Bureau Federation Water Resources Director Danny Merkley. "Water needs for food production appear to be a low priority for state and federal water planners, and that's a disappointment."
Ara Azhderian, water policy manager for the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, noted that despite improved storage resulting from storms since early February, the drought operations plan indicated no increase in water allocations to CVP or SWP customers, including prior rights holders.
"Nowhere is it stated that providing for people or the economy of California is a purpose of the plan," Azhderian said.
Environmental organizations, meanwhile, charged that the plan didn't go far enough to protect fish.
State Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin, in releasing the plan last week, noted that it is based on conditions as of March 1.
"We know we've had above-average precipitation in February and March that leads us to slightly better conditions than those contemplated as worst case in the plan we're putting forward," Cowin said, adding that precipitation in early April will be taken into consideration as water allocations are developed for SWP and CVP contractors.
"We hope to make any allocation changes by the third week of this month," he said. "Quickly coming to decisions about final water allocations for agriculture is important, so we can provide for the most robust (water) transfers market this year. We've heard loudly from water users and agencies that that's on the front burner now—to set the market, so to speak."
Irrigation water supplies from the state and federal water projects are currently set at zero for most customers and as low as 40 percent for the most senior water rights held by settlement and exchange contractors on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
The plan noted that most of the water moved into storage in San Luis Reservoir in recent weeks is "available for all highest priority beneficial purposes, including providing for the most critical needs of agriculture, industry, manufacturing, fish and wildlife, environmental protection and municipalities."