The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced an initial water delivery allocation of only 15 percent for State Water Project (SWP) contractors in 2009.

That is the second lowest in the history of the SWP. It reflects low carryover storage levels in the state’s major reservoirs, ongoing drought conditions, and court-ordered restrictions on water deliveries from the Delta. The state's major reservoirs are currently storing about one-third of their capacity at a time they would typically be at about two-thirds.

Don Cameron, manager of Terranova Ranch in Helm, Calif., says, “We can’t rely on rainfall to replenish our vineyards and orchards after harvest. We make it a point to flood irrigate after each harvest to fill the soil profile going into winter and before dormancy.

“This practice has kept our vineyards from having winter kill or frost damage to the buds that will produce next year’s crop. If we didn’t do this, we would be applying as much water as possible through our drip system to accomplish the same goal.”

In areas without adequate water supplies to replenish the soil profile this winter, the situation could get critical.

“I realize that many areas do not have an adequate supply of water and are unable to do what we can,” Cameron says.

A series of somewhat early winter storms from the Pacific in November dropped significant amounts of rain in several parts of the state. This at least helped ease the water issue and growers are hopeful these early storms are a sign of a desperately-needed wet winter.

In an average year, California agriculture irrigates 9.6 million acres, using roughly 34 million acre-feet of the 43 million acre-feet diverted from surface waters or pumped from groundwater, according to DWR.