California growers in the southern San Joaquin Valley are facing an unprecedented second straight year of zero water allocations from the federal Central Valley Project.

"We are bracing for a potential fourth year of severe drought, and this low initial allocation is yet another indicator of the dire situation," David Murillo, mid-Pacific regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said Feb. 27 in a news release. Allocations are subject to monthly reassessment.

The initial agricultural allocation north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is 10% of contract amounts. But to the south, it"s zero.

Among other discouraging signs, January was the driest it"s been in Northern California"s recorded history. Water content in snow is at 20% or less of average for this time of year, the California Department of Water Resources reports.

The federal outlook is "saddening and maddening," according to California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger.

"It"s saddening because the continued cutoff of water will prolong the impact of water shortages on farmers, their employees and rural communities," Wenger said in a statement. "It"s maddening because California still struggles to manage water wisely and flexibly, especially in dry years."

Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said the allocations disproportionately burden the south.

"Everything and everybody else gets something," Nelsen said in a news release. "Two years in a row zero allocation is the message, while other parties receive an allocation for farming, the environment or municipal needs. That is the definition of balance by federal decision makers, which questions how they define balance."

"We have to be the only state in the nation and the only nation on earth establishing policies that destroys the production of food," Nelsen said, referring to pumping restrictions premised on protection of delta smelt.

Wenger said the drought lends urgency to the process of allocating money from a water bond approved by California voters last November.

"Farm Bureau and other organizations will continue to work with the California Water Commission to ensure that bond money for surface-water storage projects is apportioned as rapidly and as effectively as possible," he said in the release. "We are suffering now from our past failure to improve our water system. We shouldn"t compound the suffering by studying projects to death."

"The rain events in December were encouraging, but the persistent dry weather the first two months of this year underscores our need to plan for another critical year of drought," Murillo said.