FAIRFIELD — A proposed “area-of-origin” water settlement with the state should mean more reliable water sources for Solano County cities during drought years.
The Solano County Water Agency, Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Yuba City and Butte County in 2008 sued the state Department of Water Resources. At issue was how to interpret a water contract developed in the 1970s.
Local water agencies said the contract gives them 100 percent of their water allocations from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, no matter how little water the state releases into the Delta during the summer from Lake Oroville reservoir. The state Department of Water Resources – and water contractors south of the Delta – disagreed.
“If they say, ‘That’s not what it meant,’ you have to litigate it to have an impartial, outside judge determine what it means,” Solano County Water Agency General Manager David Okita said.
Mediation led to the proposed settlement. Local cities won’t get all of the water that they wanted, but they will get more than they do now.
“The biggest problem throughout the state is getting additional water supplies in dry years,” Okita said. “This doesn’t quite get us up to 100 percent, (as) if we had won the litigation. But it provides a very good compromise chunk of water that’s free and shores up those dry-year deficiencies.”
Local cities get water both from the Delta and Lake Berryessa reservoir. The Delta water delivered through the North Bay Aqueduct is part of the State Water Project. The Berryessa water is a separate matter, with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owning the reservoir.
But having Delta allocations and getting the full amount are two different things. The state rarely delivers 100 percent of the promised Delta water supplies. Factors range from how rainy the past winter was to pumping restrictions because of rare fish to simply having too much demand for Delta water and too little water. Cities throughout the state this year are getting 35 percent of their allocations.
The Delta provides water to 25 million Californians, including in such Southern California urban areas as Los Angeles. It provides water to Central Valley farms. It has long been the focus of California’s water wars, with the state trying in vain to find enough water for cities, farming and the environment.
Northern California communities have long made an “area-of-origin” argument. They say, in essence, that they have first call on Delta water because they are in the Delta’s watershed. They say those 1970s contracts recognized this.
Under the settlement, local cities will be subject to less of the water allocation restrictions. They would get 5 percent to 15 percent more water, Fairfield Assistant Public Works Director for Utilities Felix Riesenberg said. For example, instead of getting 35 percent of their allocations this year, they might get 50 percent.
“It’s not huge, but it’s a little higher every year,” he said.
Local cities will also have a total of 15,000 acre-feet of water during the summer that they will divide up based on their allocations. Of Solano County’s seven cities, four – Fairfield, Vacaville, Vallejo and Benicia – are using Delta water.
There are various restrictions on this extra water, such as a cap of 60,000 acre-feet during a multiple-year drought until Lake Oroville reaches capacity again.
In California’s water world, the term “acre-foot” is key. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, or the amount of water needed to cover one acre with water a foot deep. This is enough water to serve two California families for a year, according to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Fairfield has about 50,000 acre-feet in water rights annually, roughly half from Berryessa and half from the Delta. The city uses about 20,000 acre-feet annually. But, like all cities, it gets only a fraction of its Delta water allocations.
The city should get 11,800 acre-feet of water annually from its main annual Delta allocation – the rest of its Delta water comes from a previous lawsuit settlement involving Delta water in the fall, winter and spring and water it purchased from Kern County. During a multiple-year drought, Riesenberg said, Fairfield can count on getting only about 3,540 acre-feet annually of that 11,800.
Under the settlement, Fairfield should have another 4,720 acre-feet of Delta water available, he said.
“It’s like new water,” he said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.