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Delta Watch

Water Watch

California’s water supply crisis

Following California’s driest year on record, in 2013, the state’s water system has been stretched to its breaking point. Reservoir levels are at historic lows and the Sierra snowpack was at only 32 percent of average at the April 1 snowpack survey reading. With California’s varying and unpredictable weather patterns, these extreme dry conditions could be a sign of things to come, rather than an anomaly.

California water officials have announced that the State Water Project (SWP) Central Valley Project (CVP) agricultural contractors are projected to receive ZERO water from their annual allocation this year. This will leave the 25 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland dependent on the projects struggling to cope with already tapped local resources.  

Restrictions intended to protect native fish in the Delta, known as Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives or RPAs, have had significant effects on water exports over the past four years, under both wet and dry hydrological conditions. This is the case despite the fact that a federal court has held the RPAs are unlawful. The chart below shows the water losses in the Delta since 2010 and the allocations for the Central Valley Project south of the Delta (CVP) and State Water Project contractors (SWP):

Year

Water Year Classification

Water lost due to Biological Opinions

CVP Allocation

SWP Allocation

2013

Dry

800,000 acre-feet

 20%

 35%

2012

Below Normal

620,000 acre-feet

40%

60%

2011

Wet

300,000 acre-feet

80%

80%

2010

Below Normal

1,043,000 acre-feet

25%

15%

Without a more sensible suite of actions to protect smelt and salmonids and/or an updated water delivery system, as is currently being proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process, Californians are likely to face even stricter water curtailments in the future, which are made worse by restrictions imposed to protect fish species. MORE INFORMATION

SIERRA SNOWPACK SURVEY

On April 1, the California Cooperative Snow Survey found the Sierra snowpack to be at only 32 percent of average to date. The April survey, taken at a time when the snowpack is normally at its peak, was the third lowest reading on record.

MAJOR RESERVOIR LEVELS

California’s major reservoirs are sitting well below historical average, as water users have been forced to depend on stored water for supplies after an exceptionally dry winter. In an extreme case, Folsom Lake was at only 17 percent of capacity, as of February 2.  Dept. of Water Resources - Current Reservoir Conditions

(Photo: Folsom Lake by DWR) Folsom Lake at only 17 percent of capacity.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

California water plan unveils hardships to come as drought persists
Article from the Sacramento Bee (April 10, 2014)

The Thirsty West: Where’s the Snow?
Article from Slate Magazine (April 9, 2014)

California Drought Update: How Low Can the Reservoirs Go?
Article from KQED (March 24, 2014)

California snowpack still well below normal
Article from the Sacramento Bee (February 27, 2014)

California snowpack 12 percent of normal
Article from the Sacramento Bee (January 30, 2014)

GROUNDWATER BANKING
The excess water available during 2011 provided an incredible opportunity for recharging groundwater storage throughout the state. Kern County alone recharged over a half million acre-feet of water into its aquifers to help mitigate future droughts. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was been able to replenish its reserves by storing 749,000 acre-feet of water in 2011, enough to supply almost 1.5 million households (6 million residents) for an entire year.

MORE INFORMATION: Delta Watch – Banking Water for the Future