West-side farmers get irrigation boost

FRESNO, Calif.

Now a new bill introduced this week could put the heavy snowpack to greater use.

Towering Friant Dam is already filled to 85-percent of its capacity so 14-thousand acre feet of water are now being released every day. But the water pouring into the San Joaquin River isn't reserved for Valley farmers.

Firebaugh farmer Joe Del Bosque said, "When we have a wet year like this when we're way above normal, the reservoirs are full and water's flowing out to the ocean and we're at 55-percent. It dismays me."

Del Bosque farms is in the Westlands Water District.

A new bill introduced by Fresno Congressman Jim Costa would provide flexibility to pumping restrictions due to environmental concerns in the delta. Wetter years would mean pumping could last longer in the spring.

Costa explained, "When we have above average snow in the sierra and a good rain year as we've had this year to provide the west side with a water allocation that we think is reflective of the water year we've had."

Del Bosque said a 15-percent water allocation increase called for by the bill would create 25 jobs on his farm. "We're looking at planting another maybe 85-120 acres of asparagus, another 120 acres of cantaloupes and 500 acres of wheat."

Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham said Delta pumps are scheduled to shut down April 1st to protect endangered fish. Birmingham said, "The current hydrologic conditions are so wet people think that the problem has been solved. It hasn't."

Birmingham said no matter how much it rains or snows, west-side farmers can't fully benefit because of the pumping restrictions in place.

In yet another sign of the improving water situation, Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday is expected to declare the state's drought over. A drought declaration has been in effect since February 2009.

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