The 2014 State Water Project (SWP) allocation is now zero-nil-nada-not nary a drop.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) took this action Jan. 31 to “conserve the state’s precious resources and protect Californians’ health and safety from more severe shortages in the months ahead.”

The bottom line, the state agency says, is that farmers, fish, and people in cities and towns will get less water.

"The harsh weather leaves us little choice," said DWR Director Mark Cowin. 

The DWR action is in response to Governor Jerry Brown’s Jan. 19 state drought emergency.

Director Cowan said, "If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs."

Except for a small amount of carryover water from 2013, SWP customers will get no deliveries in 2014 if current dry conditions persist.

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Deliveries to agricultural districts with long-standing water rights in the Sacramento Valley could be cut 50 percent - the maximum permitted by contract - depending upon future snow survey results.

DWR says many areas served by the SWP have other sources of water, including groundwater, local reservoirs, and other supplies.

“It is our duty to give State Water Project customers a realistic understanding of how much water they will receive from the Project,” Cowin said. “Simply put, there’s not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project.”

DWR has asked the SWRCB to adjust water permit terms that control State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project operations in order to preserve dwindling supplies in upstream reservoirs for farms, fisheries, and cities and towns as the drought continues.

While additional winter storms could provide a limited boost to reservoir storage and water deliveries, DWR says heavy rain and snow are needed every other day from now until May to get to an average annual rain and snowfall.

But DPR says California still would be in a drought since a normally wet December and January have been critically dry, and follow a record dry 2013 and a dry 2012.

After two previous dry years, DPR says 2014 is shaping up as the driest in state history. Current water storage in key reservoirs is lower than at this period in 1977, one of the two previous driest water years on record.

The Sierra snow survey Jan. 30 found the snowpack’s statewide water content at only 12 percent of average for this time of year.

Reservoir levels

Lake Oroville in Butte County, the principal SWP reservoir, is at 36 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (55 percent of the historical average for the date). 

Shasta Lake north of Redding - California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir - is at 36 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity (54 percent average to date). 

The San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir for both the SWP and CVP, is at 30 percent of its two-million-acre-foot capacity (39 percent of average for the date).

Never before in the 54-year history of the State Water Project has DWR announced a zero allocation to all 29 public water agencies which buy from the SWP.

These deliveries help supply water to 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. 

Deliveries to senior water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley - all agricultural irrigation districts - were last cut in 1992.

The only previous State Water Project zero percent allocation was in 1991 for agriculture, but cities received a 30 percent allocation.

“Carryover” water stored by local agencies and water transferred from willing sellers to buyers in critically short areas still will be delivered, as will emergency supplies for drinking, sanitation, and fire protection.

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