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Published May 04, 2010, 09:02 AM

California farmers get more water in snowmelt plan

FRIANT, Calif. — San Joaquin Valley farmers are benefiting from the sale of billions of gallons of water from a reservoir north of Fresno as federal officials work to drain it to prepare for the summer Sierra snowpack thawing.

FRIANT, Calif. — San Joaquin Valley farmers are benefiting from the sale of billions of gallons of water from a reservoir north of Fresno as federal officials work to drain it to prepare for the summer Sierra snowpack thawing.

Water releases from Millerton Lake are needed to avoid a surge later this year that could flood crops and other land along the San Joaquin River, said Pete Lucero, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir.

The Sierra snowpack is at 139 percent of average, thanks to the wettest California winter since 2006.

Some of the water is going toward the river restoration program, part of the plan to bring back the Chinook salmon, but 70 percent of the Millerton Lake releases are going to farmers.

Farmers could get more than 400,000 acre-feet in flood-prevention releases this spring. That’s in addition to being eligible to buy 30,000 acre-feet to make up for water lost when the river restoration began last fall, according to the restoration agreement.

Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority, which represents 15,000 east San Joaquin Valley growers, said they plan to use the extra water to irrigate crops and fill ponds that seep into their wells.

“We have an extensive groundwater recharge program,” Jacobsma said. “We’ll be taking as much water as we can and hoping Millerton won’t spill over the next month.”

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