California is enduring its second consecutive dry winter and the lack of rain and snow during what is usually California’s wet season has shrunk the state’s water supply. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, a crucial source of water as it melts over the spring and summer, is currently at 65% of normal. California’s major reservoirs are also low, averaging just 50% of capacity.
Faced with the almost certainty of another exceptionally dry year, state and federal officials have issued bleak warnings about California’s summer water supplies:
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has cut its 2021 allocations to the 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland served by the State Water Project. The department now expects to deliver just 5% of requested supplies this year, down from the initial allocation of 10% announced in December. “We are now facing the reality that it will be a second dry year for California and that is having a significant impact on our water supply,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “The Department of Water Resources is working with our federal and state partners to plan for the impacts of limited water supplies this summer for agriculture as well as urban and rural water users. We encourage everyone to look for ways to use water efficiently in their everyday lives.”
Meanwhile, the State Water Resources Control Board has mailed early warning notices to 40,000 farmers, municipal officials and others, telling them to prepare for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures. Joaquin Esquivel, chairman of the water board, said the letters are intended to notify water-rights holders that their legal rights to pull water from rivers and streams could be limited. “It’s the reality that conditions are so dry that curtailment is a possibility and we’re wanting everybody to be on notice,” he said.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which supplies water to farmers through the Central Valley Project (CVP), is also adjusting its water supply allocation in response to the ongoing drought conditions. The Bureau has said the 5% water allocation promised to its customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta “is not available for delivery until further notice.” The “freeze” means no water will be delivered until the agency knows what it can deliver. The CVP gets its water from Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, which is one-third emptier than usual for this date.
Water shortages would affect rural and urban Californians alike. The decision by Reclamation to cut its CVP allocations puts rural farmers already pre-irrigating and planning for spring crops in a dire situation. “We’re bracing for some hard times,” said Joe Del Bosque, a prominent melon and almond grower in the region. In urban Southern Californian, 19 million residents depend on the State Water Project for roughly a quarter of their annual supply. “The state’s deteriorating water supply conditions reinforce the need to maintain the lower water use we have seen among Southern Californians since the last drought,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.