“The problem is not so much the drought as the pumping restrictions,” Bourdeau said. “(In December 2012) 1 million acre feet of water was let out to the ocean because of pumping restrictions. Then a long drought started. If you could have put that water into the reservoirs, it would be easier to manage the situation.”
Pumping restrictions are related to federal protection for the endangered delta smelt.
“Two years ago, there were heavy rains and snowpack,” Duda said. “Water was released all summer to get reservoirs ready for winter. These were virtual flood control conditions, but the Westside still got less than 50% of its allocation. There’s no question policy played a role.”
“I am depressed and disappointed that this fertile farming area with a great history of high quality spring and fall lettuce for decades may fade out of existence,” said John Harris, chairman and chief executive officer of Coalinga, Calif.-based Harris Farms.
“A huge hit is taken by the Western Fresno County economy if it suddenly goes away due to the draconian water policies we face,” Harris said.
“As I understand it, most delta smelt killed are killed by striped bass,” Bourdeau said. “Instead of addressing that, the pumps are restricted. The smelt’s health and vitality haven’t improved.”
“First off, the governor and president need to declare a drought emergency,” he said. “They need to operate within the biological opinion protecting the (smelt) but in a way that can maximize water transfers and pumping. They have some ability to use their judgment. There is some tolerance and range, and they need to operate at the higher end.”
After initial water allocations, subsequent allocations can adjust the amount. Last year’s allocation in the district dropped to 20% after starting at 25%. In 2012, it was adjusted up from 30% to 40%.
This year, even if there’s a zero allocation and it’s adjusted up, growers may not have time to react, given the planning crops require.