Amid California's most crippling drought of modern times, state officials on Friday announced they won't allocate water to agencies that serve 25 million people and nearly 1 million acres of farmland.
The announcement marks the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that such an action has been taken. State Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said the action was being taken to conserve the little water than remains behind the dams in the state's vast system of reservoirs.
"Simply put, there's not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project," Cowin said in a statement that was released as numerous state and federal officials announced a variety of actions related to California's drought.
Most of the 29 agencies serving the towns and farms that draw from the State Water Project have other, local sources of water. But the total cut-off of state water deliveries this spring and summer could have a national impact because it will affect farms in one of the nation's richest agricultural belts.
Read: Kern County water agency reacts to State Water Project Zero Allocation
"These actions will protect us all in the long run," Cowin said during the news conference.
Friday's action comes after Gov. Jerry Brown made an official drought declaration, clearing the way for state and federal agencies to coordinate efforts to preserve water and send it to where it is needed most. The governor urged Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent.
It also reflects the severity of the dry conditions in the nation's most populous state. Officials say 2013 was the state's driest calendar year since records started being kept, and this year is heading in the same direction.
A snow survey on Thursday in the Sierra Nevada, one of the state's key water sources, found the water content in the meager snowpack is just 12 percent of normal. Reservoirs are lower than they were at the same time in 1977, which is one of the two previous driest water years on record.
State officials have said that 17 rural communities are in danger of a severe water shortage within four months. Wells are running dry or reservoirs are nearly empty in some communities. Others have long-running problems that predate the drought.
Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued the following statement after the Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that State Water Project allocation is being dropped to zero:
“Today’s action is a stark reminder that California’s drought is real. We’re taking every possible step to prepare the state for the continuing dry conditions we face.”
When Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency earlier this month, he directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. This week, CAL FIRE announced it hired 125 additional firefighters to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions, the California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought. Also this week, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture also released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.
Governor Brown has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent and the Save Our Water campaign has announced four new public service announcements that encourage residents to conserve. Last December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California’s preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water.