Home » Drought Leads To Another Meager Water Allocation From State Delivery System

Drought Leads To Another Meager Water Allocation From State Delivery System

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As California faces a likely fourth consecutive year of drought, state water managers Thursday announced a meager 5 percent water allocation for 2023.

While allocations could change based on precipitation levels during the next few months, officials at the state Department of Water Resources are bracing for more bad news.

“This early in California’s traditional wet season, water allocations are typically low due to uncertainty in hydrologic forecasting,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a news release. “But the degree to which hotter and drier conditions are reducing runoff into rivers, streams and reservoirs means we have to be prepared for all possible outcomes.”

Currently, more than 99 percent of the state is experiencing drought conditions, with about 85 percent classified as being in a severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.


Also, Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s largest reservoir, is at about 55 percent of its average for this time of year, slightly better than last year’s historic low volume.

The 5 percent allocations affect 29 public water agencies that serve 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland that rely on the State Water Project, one of two main systems that capture, store and deliver the bulk of the state’s water supplies.

In 2022, DWR set initial allocations at zero but eventually provided 5 percent of requested water deliveries to State Water Project recipients, which was also the same allocation set in 2021.

The ongoing drought, the worst since 1976-1977, and lack of deliveries from the state and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project — which provided just 25 percent of allocations this year — left drinking water systems scrambling to find new sources of water and redoubling conservation efforts.

For example, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a wholesaler that provides drinking water to 2 million people, set a 15 percent water use reduction goal, which it exceeded by 1 percent in July and August.

It also drew from a groundwater “bank” from outside the county and bought emergency supplies from other water systems — sources which will likely become increasingly scarce as the drought drags on.

“This initial allocation serves as a stark reminder that the drought emergency is not over,” Valley Water board chair pro tem John Varela said.

“We’re thankful for the early season rainfall and we hope to see more storms this winter. But we must continue to reduce our water use,” Varela said.

Ed Stevenson, general manager of the Alameda County Water District, which serves 345,000 people in Fremont, Newark and Union City, also said conservation is key to successfully weathering another year of drought.

“Our customers have delivered on that 15 percent (water use reduction) and that’s what’s made the difference that’s allowed us to make it through the drought thus far,” Stevenson said.

Alameda County Water, which receives about 40 percent of its supply from the state project in a typical year, also relies on water banking and storage from outside its service area during dry years.

Stevenson said the good news is that because the state allocation isn’t zero, the district will be able to access those outside sources during the coming year.

He also expects the state’s hydrologic conditions will continue to be impacted by climate change.

“The climate is truly changing and we are seeing these changes in how hydrology works in the west,” Stevenson said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in this area and water managers are trying to understand what the future is going to hold — all signs indicate it’s going to be hotter and dryer and flashier in terms of precipitation,” he said.

In addition to drinking water systems, many agricultural water users received very little or none of their allocations in 2022, leading to what a new report from the University of California at Merced identified as “direct economic impacts on farm activity of $1.2 billion” and the fallowing of 395,000 acres of farmland.

“Here we go again,” said California Farm Bureau president Jamie Johansson.

“California has failed to act on critical projects to provide additional water storage, stormwater capture and groundwater recharge that are needed to protect our farms and cities from water shortages in dry years,” Johansson said in a news release.



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