That is how much water 29 agencies—serving businesses, farms and 25 million Californians—can expect to receive from the State Water Project (SWP) in the coming year unless the drought picture improves quickly.
“Simply put, there’s not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project,” California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director Mark Cowin said in announcing the news. It is the first time in the agency’s 54-year history that it projected no allocation.
The cuts will mostly affect people in Southern California and the Central Valley. They could be readjusted if storms push snowpack levels above the current 12% level. But for now, it looks like agriculture will take the biggest hit.
Kern County Water Agency board President Ted Page called the decision (pdf) “catastrophic and woefully inadequate for Kern County residents, farms and businesses.” It practically left him pining for November 20, when the DWR indicated it would muster a 5% allocation. A good chunk of the 750,000 acres of agricultural land affected by the decision is in Kern County.
Page noted it will have a significant problem, shared by many communities, replacing the lost water with other sources. “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,” he said.
A DWR press release said those stricken areas are few in the state. “It is important to note that almost all areas served by the SWP have other sources of water, such as groundwater, local reservoirs, and other supplies,” but there was no attempt to quantify how many do not.
“We expect hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the Central Valley to go unplanted,” Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, told the San Jose Mercury News.
The State Water Project is the nation’s system of state-constructed water and power delivery. Its heart is in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which essentially captures melting snow from the Sierra Mountains. But it includes pipelines, canals, reservoirs, lakes and power plants. The project’s largest customer is the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which gets 30% of its water there and has indicated it has enough committed resources to get through the year without it.
The Sacramento Bee correctly pointed out high in its story that the decision “does not mean that every farm field will turn to dust and every city tap will run dry.” That may be a small comfort.
New measures of the dire situation faced by the state emerge daily. Driest year on record. Record-low snowpack. Reservoirs way under 50% capacity; some nearly dry. And no end in sight, with global warming and unfathomable climatic cycles confounding the picture.