California has been pummeled with precipitation at levels that haven’t been seen in many years. In fact, the Northern Sierra has received more precipitation to date this year, than in any other year on record. Most major reservoirs are near or exceeding historical averages, and statewide there is 2 million acre feet more water in storage than in an average year. Statewide snow water content is 182 percent of normal for this time of the year. By nearly all accounts, California’s water supply is in healthy condition for the first time in several years.
So why are water customers facing another year of cutbacks and restricted supplies?
Even with all this water in storage and high flows surging through the Delta and out to sea, state and federal water contractors still may not receive their full contracted amounts. The Department of Water Resources’ most recent allocation for the State Water Project was just 60 percent of contracted amounts. The US Bureau of Reclamation has yet to release their initial allocation for Central Valley Project allocation; they are required to do so by February 15th, and several sources expect an initial allocation of anywhere from 15 to 35 percent of contracted amounts for south of Delta ag contractors.
So why aren’t customers getting full supplies?
Allocations could continue to improve as the water year goes on, but increased allocations are not a guarantee considering SWP customers have only gotten a full allocation once this century (2006). One thing is for certain – the system remains broken! State and federal policymakers need to ask why the water system is falling short even during an historic wet winter.
California’s water infrastructure needs to be updated. More storage is critical. Improved conveyance is crucial. More flexible operational parameters are also needed to allow water managers to move water from where it is collected and stored to where it is used, when it is available.
The system is overflowing with water this year, enough to meet the needs of the environment and the state’s many diverse water users. Yet California residents, farms and businesses are facing another year of cutbacks. It’s time for policy makers to start providing answers and take action.