The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced today that water agencies should expect a zero percent allocation of State Water Project (SWP) water supplies due to record dry conditions and low storage levels. The SWP provides water to more than 25 million residents and more than 750,000 acres of agricultural land throughout California.
“A zero allocation is catastrophic and woefully inadequate for Kern County residents, farms and businesses, and it provides no hope for replenishment of groundwater banking reserves that have been tapped to provide agricultural and urban water during previous dry years,” said Kern County Water Agency (Agency) Board of Directors President Ted Page.
DWR issued an initial allocation of only 5 percent on November 20, 2013, but this was further reduced after DWR’s most recent snow survey finding that snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has just 12 percent of the average water content for this time of year. Earlier this month, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued an emergency drought declaration in response to the extremely dry conditions.
“We urge the continued effort of Governor Brown and state and federal officials to become directly involved in this dire situation,” said Page. “Coordinated efforts are critical to maximize and optimize California’s very limited water resources this year, and to solve the long-term water crisis facing the state.”
To offset shortages in dry years, Kern County farmers and others have relied on groundwater to make up for low SWP and Central Valley Project allocations. After several years of substandard allocations, those supplies are extremely low with no hope of replenishment in sight. “While many areas of the county will continue to rely on groundwater to make up at least part of the difference, some areas have exhausted their supply,” said Page.
Agency staff is working with local water districts to find ways to minimize the impacts of a third dry year, but those possibilities are stretched thin. Stewardship and conservation are always important, especially when water supplies are critically low. Agricultural water-use efficiency has been a high priority for many years. However, conservation alone cannot solve California's long-term water supply issues. The current crisis underscores the importance of addressing California's chronic water supply reliability issues through new water supply infrastructure, including conveyance and storage.