COLUMN: Bureau of Reclamation cuts water allocations

Shawn Novack writes that effective April 1, water supply to all Central Valley project M&I water service companies has been restricted to public health and safety concerns.

This column was contributed by Shawn Novack, Water Conservation Program Manager at the Water Resources Association San Benito County, San Benito County Water District. The opinions expressed are not necessarily representative BenitoLink or other related contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our homepage and agreeing to follow ours Terms of Useyou can write counter opinions or share your insights on current topics.

Due to critically dry hydrological conditions, the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) is updating the Central Valley Project (CVP) water supply allocations for municipal and industrial water service companies. Effective April 1, 2022, water supplies to all Central Valley Project M&I water service companies have been reduced to public health and safety requirements. The announcement comes after the first three months of 2022 were the driest in the state’s recorded history.

Initial CVP water supply allocations were announced last month, which included a 25 percent allocation for M&I water service providers, excluding M&I contractors in the north of the Delta, who have already been allocated public health and safety due to Northern California’s limited water storage.

San Benito County Water District (SBCWD) is a federal contractor of the USBR and imports water from the CVP. Our county’s portion of this water is stored in the San Luis Reservoir before being pumped into our county through the Pacheco Pass. The imported surface water helps keep our local aquifer in balance, is used to improve our drinking water quality and aids in the production of high quality specialty crops.

Winter storms brought significant snowfall to the Sierra Nevada and other California mountains in December. Snow cover is critical to the prospect of the state’s spring water because when the snow melts, it flows downhill into streams that fill reservoirs that hold about 30% of the state’s water supply. This water is transported across the state via the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project (CVP).

On December 30, 2021, Sierra snow cover was estimated at approximately 160% of the historical average for that date. Since the beginning of the year, the snow cover has melted steeply. On April 4, snow cover was 33% of the historical average for that date.

Local water authorities implemented Tier 1 water conservation measures in May 2021 after Gov. Newsom expanded his drought emergency proclamation in April. A total of 41 counties were in the drought emergency, accounting for 30 percent of the state’s population. The expanded drought emergency declaration added San Benito County. The implemented water saving measures provided for a voluntary reduction in water consumption by 15% compared to consumption before the drought.

In October 2021, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California.

With this latest news from the USBR, water managers in Hollister and San Juan Bautista are bringing resolutions to their boards and councils to implement Phase II of the Water Scarcity Contingency Plan. This phase requires mandatory water conservation with the aim of reducing water consumption by 25% of pre-drought levels.

Our groundwater basin serves as a backup water supply. We need to stretch this stock as much as possible as we don’t know when the drought will end.

The Tier II water protection measures come into effect sometime in May. As we enter our peak irrigation season, most of the action will be focused on external water use. These measures include, but are not limited to:

  • Landscape watering will be capped and limited to no more than two days per week.
  • No watering of landscapes between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. by means other than drip irrigation or manual watering with a shut-off nozzle.
  • No rinsing off sidewalks, driveways or other hardscape surfaces.
  • Do not irrigate landscapes in a way that causes runoff onto adjacent properties, non-irrigated areas, private and public sidewalks, streets, or parking lots.
  • No car wash without the use of a shut-off nozzle.
  • No operation of ornamental fountains or other water features unless the water is circulated.

General requirements:

  • Leaks, ruptures and malfunctions of irrigation systems and plumbing that result in water wastage must be repaired and rectified within a reasonable time.

Prohibitions for commercial establishments:

  • Restaurants and other catering establishments may only serve water on request
  • Hotel and motel operators must offer guests the option of not having their towels and bed linen washed daily and clearly indicate this option.

Code Enforcement will patrol and look for violations of these measures.

Penalties for violating the outdoor water restrictions are:

  • First Violation – written notice with an opportunity to correct the violation
  • Second Violation – $100 penalty for violation within 12 months of the first violation
  • Third Violation – $250 penalty for one violation within 12 months of the second violation
  • Fourth Violation – $500 penalty and installation of flow restrictor on water meter at customer’s expense for each violation within 12 months of third violation

The San Benito County Water Resources Association offers free services to assist you in complying with these measures. Free watering aid, free hose nozzles and free signage for hotels. Call them for a free leak test and irrigation assessment. They can be reached at 831-637-4378. For more water-saving ideas, go to: www.wrasbc.org

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