State Water Project allocation cut to zero
January 31, 2014
• State says it is worst-ever water supply outlook
• “There’s not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project”
• UPDATED with press conference audio
The California Department of Water Resources has cut promised water deliveries from the State Water Project from 5 percent to zero.
"The harsh weather leaves us little choice," says DWR Director Mark Cowin. "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, customers of the State Water Project will get no deliveries in 2014 if current dry conditions persist and deliveries to agricultural districts with long-standing water rights in the Sacramento Valley may be cut 50 percent -- the maximum permitted by contract -- depending upon future snow survey results. It is important to note that almost all areas served by the SWP have other sources of water, such as 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,” says Mr. Cowin. “Simply put, there’s not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project.”
DWR also 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 may provide a limited boost to reservoir storage and water deliveries, it would need to rain and snow heavily every other day from now until May to get us back to average annual rain and snowfall. Even then, California still would be in a drought, because normally wet December and January have been critically dry – and follow a record dry 2013 and a dry 2012.
After two previous dry years, 2014 is shaping up as the driest in state history, DWR says. Storage in key reservoirs now is lower than at this time in 1977, one of the two previous driest water years on record. Thursday’s Sierra snow survey found the snowpack’s statewide water content at only 12 percent of average for this time of year.
Lake Oroville in Butte County, the principal SWP reservoir, is at 36 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (55 percent of its 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 of average for the date). San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir for both the SWP and CVP, is at a mere 30 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (39 percent of average for the date).
Key facts on water deliveries and impacts, according to the state:
Never before in the 54-year history of the State Water Project has DWR announced a zero allocation to all 29 public water agencies that 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 that year received 30 percent of requested allocations.
“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.
Regulatory Actions Sought
In a formal petition delivered earlier this week, DWR and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) asked the SWRCB to adjust requirements for freshwater outflow in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in order to preserve stored water that may be needed later in the year for health and safety needs and to provide cold water upstream for protection of salmon and other species.
The existing Delta water quality standards, contained in Water Rights Decision 1641, were not written with these extraordinarily dry conditions in mind, DWR says. The DWR and Reclamation petition seeks adjustment to the water quality and flow requirements for February, along with a request to establish a framework to make further requests and adjustments as the drought evolves.
The petition also seeks flexibility in management of a water quality regulation that requires closure of the Cross-Channel Gates along the Sacramento River near Walnut Grove from February 1 through May 20. Under the current extremely low flow conditions, open gates can help ameliorate salty conditions in the Delta. DWR and Reclamation propose to close the gates should storm runoff boost flows or if fish monitoring indicates closure is needed to protect threatened species.
Water rights permits require the SWP, operated by DWR, and the CVP, operated by Reclamation, to ensure that outflow from the Delta meets an average of 7,100 cubic feet per second (cfs) beginning February 1. Outflow is composed of flows from all tributaries to the Delta, some of which are directly controlled by DWR and Reclamation.
Under the petition, DWR and Reclamation project that outflows will be able to meet an average of 4,500 cfs during February, which is the level currently being achieved in January. To help meet this level of outflow, DWR and Reclamation will export from the Delta a maximum of 1,500 cfs, which will be used to serve health and safety needs.
The petitioners note that they do not believe there is an adequate water supply to meet all obligations under the SWRCB's Water Rights Decision 1641. Without adjustment, "there exists a substantial risk that by late spring 2014 and into 2015 the Projects' major reservoirs will be drafted to dead pool or near dead pool levels at which point reservoir release capacities will be substantially diminished." Dead pool level refers to the condition when water can no longer be released from a reservoir using gravity.
The petition seeks to minimize adverse impacts to the cold water stored in reservoirs for downstream fisheries and to allow for some level of salinity control later in the season. Otherwise, water project operators risk losing entirely the ability to control salinity in the Delta.