Feb 26 2010
The California Department of Water Resources said on February 26 that its water releases, based on expected supply, will be much lower than usual but a little higher than had been expected.
It was enough to encourage Senator Dianne Feinstein to pull her legislation in the U.S Senate which would have been aimed at allowing for more water rights transfers in California. She said in a statement, “I will watch this situation carefully and I am placing my proposed amendment on hold; however, I reserve the right to bring it back should it become necessary.”
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today increased
anticipated 2010 State Water Project deliveries to California’s water contractors from five to 15 percent of requests. If this amount remains unchanged by the final allocation in late spring this will be the lowest allocation percentage in the project’s history.
“Despite a relatively wet winter our reservoir storage levels remain low,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “After three years of drought conditions and a number of mandated pumping restrictions even a wet year won’t get us out of the woods. We need increased conservation, a more reliable water delivery system and a comprehensive solution for California’s water crisis.”
Lake Oroville is at only 54% of its average storage level for this time of year. And while San Luis Reservoir is at 80% of normal for this time of year, the vast majority of that supply is unavailable for this year’s allocation. Most of the supply in San Luis is earmarked for individual water contractors who are trying to stretch these supplies carried over from previous years. So supplies in two key State Water Project reservoirs are well below where DWR would like them to be.
Another hydrologic condition affecting the allocation amount is the condition of the watershed. After three years of drought, the watershed is dry and will likely absorb more of the snowpack. Therefore, less runoff from the snowpack is expected.
However, the allocation at this time of year is a conservative estimate. As winter progresses and the Department has a clearer picture of water conditions, the allocation can be increased. There is a 90 percent chance that the allocation will improve by late spring. If average precipitation continues, the final allocation will likely be in the range of 35-45 percent of requested amounts. That spread is based on how the biological opinions to protect fish species are applied and how much flexibility the Department has to pump water.
In 2009, the State Water Project delivered 40 percent of customer requests. The federal Central Valley Project was only able to deliver 10 percent of contracted amounts to some agricultural areas in the San Joaquin Valley.
The reduced deliveries were due both to dry weather and fishery agency restrictions on pumping to protect fish species; principally Delta smelt, salmon, and longfin smelt.
The historical average of final State Water Project allocations over the past 10 years has been 68% of contractors’ requests.
Electronic readings indicate that statewide, water content in the Sierra snowpack currently is 103% of normal for the date. The crucial reading will be at the beginning of April, when snowpack water content normally is at its peak before the spring melt into rivers and reservoirs.
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