February and March storms allowed the increase in state water project deliveries south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the California Department of Water Resources reported April 18. About 2 million more acre feet of water have come into storage.
“None of the water they’re talking about is available to the East side of the San Joaquin Valley where the bulk of permanent crops are — stone fruits, vines and citrus,” said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
About 50,000 acres of citrus would remain vulnerable, Nelsen said.
“Growers are making decisions about which blocks to keep alive,” he said. “Now you’re trying to set next year’s orange crop. It doesn’t make sense to incur that expense without water. So some are bulldozing trees; some are topping trees so they don’t produce but stay alive. Some are hoping our efforts to get adequate water are successful.”
NelsenThe trade group expects exchange contractors — senior rights holders who can trade one water source for another as availability varies — to claim Millerton Lake water that would otherwise flow to the Friant-Kern Canal. The canal supplies growers around Fresno, Orange Cove, Lindsay and Porterville.
Water rights of some California exchange contractors date back to the 1800s. They include producers of nuts, vegetables, melons, tomatoes and some stone fruit.
“They’re presently guaranteed 40% of their right,” Nelsen said. “If they don’t get 100%, they have first call on the Friant. To reach 100%, they would take all of the water Friant now has.”
California Citrus Mutual lobbying to get 300,000 of the 2 million acre feet released.
“Give 15% to the exchange contractors and let Friant keep the 200,000 it has in inventory,” Nelsen said. “That would solve the problem.”
Some of the state’s 5% increase would go to municipal use or to fight saltwater intrusion — which Citrus Mutual supports. Disagreements with state and federal policymakers have centered around how much water is needed to protect the delta smelt.
“Most of our problem is with the National Marine Fisheries Service,” Nelsen said. “But the state is not taking a strong enough approach. They should just say ‘No; you are creating an economic, public health and food supply disaster in California and we’re not going to allow it.’”
Several citrus growers, with operations ranging from 40 to 130 acres, joined Nelsen at an April 23 news conference in Visalia to comment on the latest turn in water policy.
He said he expected another announcement from state or federal authorities responding to the objections. But nothing was scheduled as of April 24.