The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has increased the 2009 State Water Project (SWP) delivery allocation to 30 percent, notwithstanding the extremely dry conditions that persist across California going into the no-rain summer period.
Though an improvement from the March allocation of 20 percent of contractors’ requests, drought conditions continue and residents, businesses and farms are urged to continue conserving water.
“By no means has California been lifted out of this third year of drought,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “In fact, 2007-2009 is expected to rank in the top ten driest three-year periods in the last century. Saving water must become a way of life for all Californians now and into the future, but long-term solutions must also include investment in our state’s water management infrastructure.”
Earlier this week, U,.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Obama administration has earmarked $260 million for California water projects and drought assistance through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The funding will help California work toward a comprehensive solution to providing clean, reliable and sustainable water supplies, and will create needed jobs up and down the state.
The DWR water allocation increase comes after spring storms kept precipitation near normal, and snowpack around 80 percent of average. Lake Oroville is still 28 percent below average and San Luis Reservoir has already peaked at its lowest level in history.
At the start of each year DWR issues a conservative initial allocation estimate that is typically increased as the water year progresses. In December 2008, DWR announced an initial 2009 allocation of 15 percent for the SWP, but severe drought conditions prevented this initial allocation from being increased until March 2009. Final 2009 allocations to SWP contractors will be set in May and if that percentage remains at 30, it will match the lowest in SWP history, which occurred in 1991. DWR has been allocating SWP water since 1968.
Besides drought conditions, a federal court ruling to protect Delta smelt has reduced SWP pumping capacity. In the future, the Delta’s fragile ecosystem, uncertain precipitation patterns and reduced snowmelt will further reduce California’s water supply reliability.
In late February, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency and ordered a range of actions to manage the drought crisis. The governor urged Californians to prepare for worsening drought and requested that all urban users reduce their water use by 20 percent.
DWR drought officials report that 20 agencies in California have implemented some form of mandatory water conservation measure and that voluntary conservation measures have been adopted by 59 agencies.
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.