This Year’s 100% Water Allocation in California Does Not Mean the Water Crisis is Over, Experts Say

The West may be out of the woods in ensuring its water supply this year, but the water crisis is still very much alive, experts caution.

Last week, the California Department of Natural Resources announced that the state would receive 100% water allocation for the first time since 2006, meaning that communities and farmers under the State Water Project would receive all of its water requests for the year.

Supply Allocation-Central Valley Project-Bureau of Reclamation

Reclamation Increases Central Valley Project 2023 Water Supply Allocations

The Bureau of Reclamation March 28, announced an increase in Central Valley Project 2023 water supply allocations. After below average precipitation in February, Reclamation announced a conservative initial water supply allocation for the CVP on Feb. 22. Additional atmospheric river systems have since boosted hydrological conditions and storage volumes, allowing for a more robust water supply allocation.

Since making initial allocations last month, Shasta Reservoir, the cornerstone of the Central Valley Project, has increased from 59% to 81%, and San Luis Reservoir, the largest reservoir south-of-Delta, from 64% to 97%. Record-breaking snowpack conditions currently exist in the Southern Sierra coupled with significant snowpack in the Central Sierra and Northern Sierra/Trinity.

2023 Central Valley Project supply allocations increased

Based on current hydrology and forecasting, Reclamation is announcing the following increases to CVP water supply allocations:

North-of-Delta Contractors

  • Irrigation water service and repayment contractors north-of-Delta are increased to 80% from 35% of their contract total.
  • Municipal and industrial water service and repayment contractors north-of-Delta are increased to 100% from 75% of their historic use.

South-of-Delta Contractors

  • Irrigation water service and repayment contractors south-of-Delta are increased to 80% from 35% of their contract total.
  • M&I water service and repayment contractors south-of-Delta are increased to 100% from 75% of their historical use.

Friant Division Contractors

  • Friant Division contractors’ water supply is delivered from Millerton Reservoir on the upper San Joaquin River and categorized by Class 1 and Class 2. The first 800,000 acre-feet of available water supply is considered Class 1; Class 2 is considered the next amount of available water supply up to 1.4 million acre-feet. Class 1 remains at 100% and Class 2 was previously increased from 20% to 70% on March 7.

Friant Dam is currently being operated for flood control purposes; as long as these conditions exist contractors are able to take delivery of all available water from Friant Dam to the maximum extent of their respective contracts.

All other CVP water supply allocations remain the same as noted in the Feb. 22 announcement.

As the water year progresses, changes in hydrology, actions that impact operations, and opportunities to deliver additional water will influence future allocations. Reclamation will continue to monitor hydrology and may adjust basin-specific allocations if conditions warrant an update. Water supply updates and past year’s allocations are posted on Reclamation California-Great Basin Region’s website.

Despite Storms, Water Challenges Persist

New snow blankets the landscape of Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir. Last week, California water officials announced that the statewide Sierra Nevada snowpack was recorded at 190% of seasonal average on March 3. Meanwhile, at a water conference, state officials warned they expect warming conditions to persist and called for partnering on water supply solutions.

‘A Foundation of Racism’: California’s Antiquated Water Rights System Faces New Scrutiny

It’s an arcane system of water law that dates back to the birth of California — an era when 49ers used sluice boxes and water cannons to scour gold from Sierra Nevada foothills and when the state government promoted the extermination of Native people to make way for white settlers.

Today, this antiquated system of water rights still governs the use of the state’s supplies, but it is now drawing scrutiny like never before.

Is California’s Drought Finally Over? Here’s the Impact of the Latest Storms

If there’s concern about California’s wet winter turning dry, consider it shushed.

The heaps of snow over the past week on top of the parade of deluges in early January have been extraordinary and left much of the state with well-above-average precipitation for the season. The winter storms, which account for the bulk of the state’s rain and snow, are forecast to continue into next month, virtually ensuring a good water year for California.

California Farms, Cities to Get Big Jump in Water From Feds After Storms

California farms and cities that get their water from the Central Valley Project are due to receive a large increase in water allocations this year after snowpack and reservoirs were replenished in winter storms, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday.

Most recipients of the Central Valley Projects are irrigation districts that supply farms, and some are cities, including those served by the East Bay Municipal Utility District and Contra Costa Water District in the Bay Area.

On Eve of Storms, California Water Authorities Boost State Water Project Allocation to 35%

As California braced for yet another round of winter storms Wednesday, state water officials announced that they were again boosting supplies for water agencies that serve 27 million residents.

The Department of Water Resources said it now expects to deliver 35% of requested water supplies — up from the 30% announced last month — via the State Water Project.

Water Board Waives Delta Rules That Protect Salmon

California’s water board decided Tuesday to temporarily allow more storage in Central Valley reservoirs, waiving state rules that require water to be released to protect salmon and other endangered fish.

The waiver means more water can be sent to the cities and growers that receive supplies from the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta through the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. The state aqueduct delivers water to 27 million people, mostly in Southern California, and 750,000 acres of farmland, while the Central Valley Project mostly serves farms.

DWR-Reclamation-Water right-drought-conserve

DWR, Reclamation Submit Request to Adjust Water Right Permit Conditions to Conserve Storage

Following the driest three-year period on record, California experienced one of the wettest three weeks in January. But now those extreme wet conditions have activated a water quality standard in the Delta that, coupled with the extended dry period since then, could result in a sharp reduction in the amount of water that can be retained or moved into storage for both the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project.

The Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are working in real time to operate the state’s water system to maximize water supply while protecting species and the environment. However, California continues to experience unprecedented swings in weather impacting water management operations.

“Extreme weather swings”

Because of these extreme weather swings, DWR and Reclamation are taking proactive measures to manage the state’s water supply to store and capture more water in preparation for a return to hot, dry weather in the next two months.

Both agencies submitted a Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP) to the State Water Resources Control Board requesting approval to modify compliance with Delta water quality conditions specified in their water right permits, while proposing measures to avoid impacts on Delta smelt.

DWR and Reclamation typically would seek this kind of change during extremely dry conditions. But the swing to extremely wet conditions after extremely dry conditions has created challenges, and the projects are acting to enable additional opportunities for water storage north and south of the Delta while maintaining protections for species.

The request for the TUCP follows protective actions taken by DWR and Reclamation under state and federal endangered species permits in late December and early January, including the “first flush” action to reduce pumping and allow storm runoff to flow through the system for the benefit of native fish species. Recent monitoring information shows the actions worked as intended, with key fish species moving downstream of the Delta and away from the direct influence of the SWP and CVP pumps.

The water quality and water right permits that dictate SWP and CVP operations require certain water quality conditions to be met at specific compliance points in the Delta to provide for favorable conditions for endangered fish species. In consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, DWR and Reclamation are requesting that the State Water Resources Control Board temporarily move the compliance point in the projects’ water rights permits from Port Chicago six miles east to Chipps Island. The alternative compliance point is anticipated to ensure water quality sufficient to protect beneficial uses.

Drought conditions persist

If approved by the State Water Board, these actions would allow DWR and Reclamation to move and retain more stormwater and runoff in the state’s reservoirs in preparation for continued dry periods.  A total of approximately 300,000 acre-feet would be saved for later use by the State Water Project alone.

While the January storms provided much-needed rain and snowfall, they did not end drought conditions for much of the state and California remains in a drought emergency.  Regions that rely on the Colorado River system face increasingly severe water shortage conditions, and groundwater basins that serve communities in the Central Valley will not recover quickly from back-to-back years of drought and chronic overdraft.

DWR will continue to work with federal and state partners to be proactive and respond in real time to balance multiple water supply needs.

U.S. Warns California Cities to Prepare for Possible Water Cuts and Fourth Year of Drought

Federal water managers on Monday warned California cities and industrial users receiving water from the Central Valley Project to prepare for a fourth year of drought and possibly “extremely limited water supply” during 2023.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Interior Department that oversees water resource management, said drought conditions in California have persisted despite early storms this month, and warned of looming water conservation actions.