California’s Friant Water Authority and many of its member water agencies want a federal judge to put an immediate stop to Bureau of Reclamation releases from Millerton Lake and seek other options to satisfy its legal obligation with senior water rights holders in the San Joaquin Valley.

The case has been assigned to Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill.  

At issue is how the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation implemented terms of a long-standing contract with growers and the source of the water the USBR tapped to meet terms of a long-standing contract with a group of senior water rights holders commonly called the “exchange contractors.”

Earlier in May the USBR decided to convey Central Valley Project (CVP) water from Friant Dam, down the San Joaquin River, to the exchange contractors on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

The eastern part of the San Joaquin Valley - from the Merced-Madera county line in the north to the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains in the south, stretches 200 miles with more than a million acres of irrigated land, most of which depends on the water behind Friant Dam.

Friant water is typically used to meet the needs of cities and growers along the valley’s east side between Chowchilla and Bakersfield. The USBR’s decision leaves zero water for east side growers and cities whose only source of water is the Friant-Kern Canal.

Friant Water Authority General Manager Ron Jacobsma criticized the government’s decision, saying water could have been taken from elsewhere in the Central Valley Project system to meet government contractual obligations with the exchange contractors.

“We want to be clear that our complaint is not against the Exchange Contractors,” Jacobsma stressed. “Our complaint is against the United States for failing to deliver the Exchange Contractors their substitute water supply.”

The filing asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order and pursue other remedies, according to Jennifer T. Buckman, Friant Water Authority General Counsel. She said there is a need for immediate action, which would direct Reclamation to use sources available to it to supply the Exchange Contractors with their substitute water.

“Trees and vines that haven't already been pushed out will soon begin dying without water and the Bureau of Reclamation will not provide water this year,” Buckman said.