Refuge Water Supply Program Details


The 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) created the Refuge Water Supply Program (RWSP), which includes 19 wetland habitat areas in the Central Valley or CVPIA refuges. Prior to the enactment of CVPIA legislation most of these refuges relied upon surplus water, agricultural return flows, junior water rights and groundwater for their supply, all sources that were either unreliable or of marginal quality, or both. The RWSP's overarching goal is to ensure that all CVPIA identified wetland habitat areas annually receive water of a specified quantity, of suitable flow rate and timing, and suitable quality to maintain and improve wetland habitat areas. CVPIA RWSP mandates are to acquire or secure the water supply necessary to meet delivery requirements, convey this water, and upgrade or build new conveyance facilities.


The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) implements long-term water supply contracts through the refuge managing agencies, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Grassland Resource Conservation District. Each each refuge managing agency provides an annual water delivery schedule and updates them monthly based on their allocated Level 2 water supply and the estimated acquisition of Incremental Level 4 water supply. The federal agencies, represented by the Reclamation and USFWS, manage the Restoration Fund and other sources of money to fund all CVPIA related activities, including the RWSP. These activities are planned annually through the CVPIA Annual Work Plan public process which includes participation from the Central Valley Joint Venture (CVJV) and its participating members. The CVJV is organized through government agencies, non-profit organizations, corporations, tribes, and individuals for the purpose of implementing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and habitat goals for the California Central Valley portion of the Pacific Flyway.

CVPIA Wetland Habitat Areas

There are 19 wetland habitat areas included in the CVPIA RWSP. Twelve habitat areas are Federal National Wildlife Refuges/Units, 6 are State Wildlife Areas/Units, and 1 is a privately managed complex within the Grassland Resource Conservation District. Five CVPIA refuge units are located in the Sacramento River Basin, 12 are in the San Joaquin River Basin, and the remaining 2 are in the Tulare Lake Basin.

CVPIA Refuge Water Supply

CVPIA refuge water supplies are categorized into the following

  • Level 2 represents the historical average amount of water deliveries prior to CVPIA enactment in 1992 and is the baseline water required for wildlife habitat management.
    • 422,251 acre-feet per year
    • CVPIA obligates Reclamation to pay for acquisition and delivery of Level 2 water supplies
    • Provided primarily from CVP yield (contract allocations)
    • Costs are 100% reimbursable by CVP contractors
  • Incremental Level 4 represents the additional increment of water required for optimal wetland habitat development.
    • 133,264 acre-feet per year
    • Acquired by Reclamation through cooperation with CDFW and consultation with CVJV
    • Must be acquired through voluntary measures which do not require involuntary reallocation of CVP yield
    • Costs are 75% Federal (primarily from the CVPIA Restoration Fund) and 25% by State of California through reimbursements or in-kind contributions

Annually, full Level 4 water delivery totals 555,515 acre-feet and is satisfied when both Level 2 and Incremental Level 4 supply requirements are met in full. Almost all of the Level 2 requirement is secure and annually received by refuges due to long-term contracts with Reclamation, but only 43% of Incremental Level 4 allocations were acquired and delivered each year (annual average from 2005-2014) from willing sellers. In most cases there are too few willing sellers, too little funding to buy their water, or both. Incremental Level 4 water supplies may be acquired through voluntary measures such as water conservation, conjunctive use, purchase, lease, donation, or similar activities. Currently four refuges are not able to receive full Level 4 water based on incomplete water conveyance infrastructure: Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, Mendota Wildlife Area, Pixley National Wildlife Refuge, and Sutter National Wildlife Refuge.

Delta water quality or Delta pumping export limitations may restrict the timing and supply of CVPIA refuge water supply deliveries. CVPIA water supply contracts and water supply allocations are therefore divided into refuges that are north of the Delta and those south of the Delta. Refuges that are south of the Delta will typically pool Incremental Level 4 water supply acquisitions and split them 67/18/15 among private, state, and federal refuges respectively.

Cost Share Requirement

Only the acquisition and delivery of Incremental Level 4 water requires a State cost share of 25% for all 19 CVPIA habitat areas. Costs associated with the CVPIA RWSP require preparation of State-federal cost share “Task Orders” consistent with the Sharing of Costs Agreement for Mitigation Projects and Improvements (SCAMPI II). In order for expenditures to contribute to State cost share under the CVPIA RWSP, CDFW will need to include State expenditures in Task Orders, which identify final (actual) federal and state costs subject to Incremental Level 4 expenditures agreed to by State and federal partners.

Annual Work Plans

Reclamation and the USFWS develop Annual Work Plans to disclose and solicit public feedback on activities planned for the upcoming federal fiscal year using the federal Central Valley Project Restoration Fund (Restoration Fund) and authorities under CVPIA. The Annual Work Plan identifies funding from the Restoration Fund and State cost-share for each program activity under CVPIA. Federal funding for CVPIA programs fluctuates annually based on federal appropriations. The RWSP identifies proposed activities and costs in the Annual Work Plan in partnership with State and federal partners, and the CVJV.

For more information, contact Jeffrey Shu at (916) 539-8951 or