San Joaquin Valley farmers will get more water

WASHINGTON -- Interior Department officials on Monday again boosted their planned irrigation water deliveries to the San Joaquin Valley, giving farmers 45 percent of their standard allocation.

The allocation is up from a 40 percent delivery announced in May.

"This latest increase in allocation is a result of favorable weather conditions this spring and better-than-expected pumping conditions in the south delta," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar explained.

Other federal water allocations throughout California will remain the same.

Farmers north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta still will get 100 percent of their allocation, and municipal and industrial water users south of the delta still will get 75 percent.

Salazar has been under political pressure all year to boost irrigation water deliveries, with California lawmakers from both parties insisting that environmental restrictions have been too strict.

Last year, farmers south of the delta and on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley received only 10 percent of their water allocation from the federal Central Valley Project.

The water cutbacks stemmed from a combination of three years of drought and environmental protections for species including the delta smelt and winter-run salmon.

"Obviously, we're pleased," Westlands Water District spokeswoman Sarah Woolf said. "We're always grateful when we receive additional water supplies."

The congressman who represents the sprawling Westlands district, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, added that the new announcement means "more water and more jobs for our valley."

Costa claims political clout

Costa sought to cast the announcement as an example of the wielding of political clout.

"We took on valley outsiders who tried to cut off our water," Costa said. "We also took on the Washington bureaucracy until they listened to our valley's message."

In some cases, decisions restricting irrigation water deliveries originated from inside the valley.

These have included decisions by Fresno-based U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger, a Republican appointee, who has challenged the adequacy of water protections for endangered species.

Last month, though, Wanger struck down pumping restrictions on the grounds that they were not based on sound science.

Woolf speculated that the Interior Department's newly increased water allocation may have been encouraged in part by Wanger's latest decisions.

The pressure exerted by Congress included Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's threat to introduce legislation that would mandate higher water deliveries for valley farmers.

The legislative proposal split the state's congressional delegation, with some Northern California and Bay Area lawmakers warning that it could harm salmon fishermen and sensitive habitat.

Feinstein opted not to introduce her bill after Salazar pledged earlier this year to deliver as much water as possible.

"Conditions have improved somewhat," Salazar said Monday, "but California's Central Valley is still struggling with the effects of three years of drought and water system operational constraints needed to address water quality and fish species of concern in the delta."

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Mike Doyle can be reached at or 202-383-0006.