Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin

Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) Project Implementation Division

The Refuge Water Supply 3406 (b)(3) and Conveyence 'Wheeling' 3406 (d)(1)(2)&(5) Programs

Thanks to the passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) in 1992, nineteen state, federal and privately-owned refuges now annually provide critical managed wetland habitat for a host of water-dependent wildlife, including snow geese, northern pintail, white-faced ibis, snowy egret, sandhill cranes, and the giant-garter snake. Reliable sources of water now help satisfy some of the yearly habitat requirements of more than 100 bird species.
Northern pintail utilze early fall habitat on Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Northern Pintail utilize early fall habitat on Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. (FWS photo)

Prior to the enactment of CVPIA legislation most of these refuges relied upon surplus water storage, agricultural return flows, junior water rights and groundwater for their supply, all sources that were either unreliable or of marginal quality, or both. The CVPIA legislation mandated an allotment of secure, reliable water to these refuges, which range as far north as Glenn County and as far south as Kern County.

CVPIA called for providing two types of refuge water supply: Level 2, which was to derive primarily from CVP yield, and Incremental Level 4 which was to be acquired, and was an additional amount above Level 2. Combined, these Level 2 (422,000 acre-feet) and Incremental Level 4 (133,000 acre-feet) amounts total some 555,515 acre-feet of annual allocation and if delivered would allow for optimal habitat management. Almost all of the Level 2 requirement is secure and annually received by refuges, due to long-term contracts with the Bureau of Reclamation, but only about 50% of the Incremental Level 4 allocations are acquired each year from willing sellers. Usually there are too few willing sellers, too little funding to buy their water, or both.

While these incremental Level 4 amounts are far less than the total required by CVPIA, they have provided some measure of critical spring and summer wildlife habitat. Refuge managers can now plan for at least one irrigation of their moist soil food plants, provide breeding ponds for waterfowl and colonial nesting birds such as white-faced ibis, great-blue herons and egrets, and provide late summer habitat for the first birds migrating in to spend the winter in the Central Valley.

A new day dawns on Kern National Wildlife refuge. (FWS photo)
A new day dawns on Kern National Wildlife Refuge. (FWS photo)

However all of these beneficial habitat management practices are limited in scope each year because of the limited amount of Incremental Level 4 water that is acquired (e.g. one irrigation may be accomplished each year when 2 or 3 are preferred, and the acres of brood habitat or later summer habitat is usually less than what is needed to support the numbers of wildlife utilizing the refuge).

The Refuge Water Supply Program is managed jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation, and consists of several program components which include: the acquisition of refuge water supplies; the construction of conveyance systems to deliver those water supplies; and the conveyance of the refuge water itself.

As of late 2009, five of the nineteen refuges still lacked the adequate infrastructure necessary to convey all the water mandated by CVPIA. And there is still a long-term need to acquire some 159,000 acre-feet of permanent water supply to allow refuge staff to optimally manage their wildlife habitat each year.

Program Managers

Dale Garrison
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Sacramento, CA 95825
Phone: (916) 414-6728 FAX: (916) 414-6713 

Tim Rust
Bureau of Reclamation
Sacramento, CA 95825
Phone: (916) 978-5556 FAX: (916) 978-5055