The plan is based on hydrologic conditions as of early March and does not consider late-March rains and the April 1 snow survey. Cowin defended the apparent early release of such a plan given that history suggests better planning can be made from the April 1 snow survey than from earlier surveys and estimates. Cowin left open the idea of making adjustments to the plan in coming weeks.

Los Banos grower Cannon Michael criticized the plan as too heavily focused on environmental and animal species needs while refusing to address the needs of agriculture. Michael is one of the senior water rights holders who were told earlier this year they would receive less water than their contract with the USBR states.

Much of the briefing centered on addressing adequate flows for fish and meeting Delta salinity requirements under the long-standing premise that salinity levels in the Delta cannot be allowed to impact urban and agricultural pumping stations.

Agricultural users were generally not discussed during the briefing. Instead, officials focused on environmental impacts to fish and wildlife and the efforts being made to move fish to spawning grounds and considerations for cold-water releases from reservoirs like Shasta and Oroville to provide spawning habitat for migrating salmon.

While agricultural pumping has not taken place in months, officials recently stepped up pumping into San Luis Reservoir, an off-stream holding site with a capacity of just over two million acre feet. That water is used in part to supply agricultural users south of the Delta. Pumping into San Luis Reservoir began only recently after late-season storms helped boost runoff through the Delta. Prior to those late-March storms much of the runoff that did occur was allowed to flow unimpeded to the Pacific Ocean.

Despite reports of additional water elsewhere in the state and the momentary increase in pumping to San Luis Reservoir, water officials stuck to their earlier announcements of zero percent water allocations to agricultural users.

Cowin said the state’s zero-percent allocation will likely not change in the wake of recent storms that added nearly 700,000 acre feet of storage to Shasta Lake and more than 530,000 acre feet of storage at Lake Oroville. As of April 9 Shasta Lake was 51 percent of capacity and Oroville was half full.

“At this point we intend to stick with the previous allocations for both south-of-the-Delta water users and north-of-the-Delta water users,” Cowin said. “We’re going to update those numbers based upon the April 1 forecast and we’ll all hope that there’s a slight increase, but clearly there’s not enough water in the system this year to expect significant amounts of water relative to a normal year for agriculture.”

 

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