Severe drought has prevented the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) from increasing its State Water Project (SWP) delivery allocation for the first time since 2001. This year’s allocation will remain at just 15 percent of SWP contractor’s requests.

“Despite recent storms and more rain expected later this week, water conditions in the state remain severe,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “Californians must conserve now to ensure there is enough water to meet the state’s basic water needs for the future.”

At the start of each year DWR issues a conservative initial allocation estimate that is typically increased as the water year progresses. However, recent rain storms have not been significant enough to replenish reservoirs or have a positive effect on DWR’s October 2008 initial allocation estimate. The decision also reflects low carryover storage levels in the state’s major reservoirs, ongoing drought conditions and court ordered restrictions on water deliveries from the Delta.

DWR delivery allocations have only been lower than 15 percent on two other occasions since the department began allocating water in 1968: 10 percent in February 1991 and briefly in 1993, before estimates were later increased.

In response to this critical water shortage, DWR continues to help facilitate water transfers and to manage the 2009 Drought Water Bank that was organized last fall in preparation for a third dry year. Local water agencies and municipalities are receiving assistance from DWR in developing plans to cope with drought.

Various Drought Conditions and Drought Preparedness workshops and webcasts have been held since October 2008 to help agencies prepare urban drought management plans and water shortage contingency plans. The department has also established a statewide Drought Operations Center and launched an updated drought Web site to help water agencies and residents decrease urban water use. The site supports efforts of local water providers that already have imposed mandatory and voluntary water restrictions and offered water saving incentives. The Web page can be found here: http://www.water.ca.gov/drought/.

On June 4, 2008, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-06-08, declaring a statewide drought and directing state agencies and departments to take immediate action to address the seriously dry conditions. On June 12, 2008, the governor issued a Central Valley State of Emergency Proclamation for nine Central Valley counties (Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern) to address urgent water needs.

SWP contractors deliver water to more than 25 million California residents and more than 750,000 acres of farmland. SWP contractors requested 4,166,376 million acre-feet of water for the 2009 calendar year, the maximum contractual amount allowed. Reduced deliveries will require contractors to rely on dry water year contingency plans to meet their needs. If precipitation were to increase and hydrologic and reservoir conditions improve, it is possible the allocation could rise in coming months.

A notice to SWP contractors regarding this allocation announcement appears on DWR’s State Water Project Analysis Office Web site.