March 2019

Thanks to a wet winter across the state, California is entirely free of drought for the first time since 2011, according to the official U.S. Drought Monitor. And more rain and snow are on the way. Consider the following:

  • Reservoir storage is at or above 100 percent of normal for this time of year in nearly every major reservoir
  • Deep snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is at 156 percent of average and still growing with recent storms
  • Storage in San Luis Reservoir is at 99 percent of capacity and 111 percent of normal.

By all measures, California has received an impressive amount of precipitation. Storm after storm, multiple “atmospheric rivers” and Sierra deluges have blessed the Golden State with more than enough water to serve the needs of farms, fish, and residents.

Yet, water supply allocations for farms, cities, and business remain constrained. Despite this well documented water “abundance” federal water supply allocations were recently increased to just 55 percent for south of Delta agricultural contractors and state allocations to just 70 percent. Given the better than healthy hydrological conditions throughout the state, policymakers should be concerned. The low water supply allocations further illustrate the extent to which the state’s water delivery system is badly broken. The supply is clearly there, but the delivery system has once again failed.

Governor Newsom and his team are working hard to develop a more adaptive and comprehensive approach to water management, and we applaud those efforts. Outdated and overly rigid rules have paralyzed our water delivery system. Adopting new operating criteria for the state and federal water projects is an important first step. We have learned a great deal about the Delta, habitat and restoration, species protection, and climate adaptation in recent years. And, the decades-old operating rules currently in place do not reflect our improved understanding of the ecosystem. In the short term, we must put that knowledge to use and provide a more programmatic and adaptive approach to water management in California. Meanwhile, long term strategies must include upgrades to the state’s out-of-date infrastructure.

Policymakers must ensure our water delivery system can perform better – our families, farms, and environment are depending on it.