Initial water allocation from state a bit tight but water users hoping for more

December 1, 2023
by Lois Henry
California reservoirs are above average for this time of year. DWR WATER RESOURCES WEB PAGE
Lois Henry

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The start of the 2023-24 water year has been disappointingly dry so far, prompting a low initial water allocation from the Department of Water Resources of just 10% of contracted amounts.

DWR operates the State Water Project, which brings water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to 29 public agencies serving 27 million residents.

The Dec. 1 water supply forecast is just the first round of allocation announcements. It is based on how much water currently sits in state reservoirs and “an assumption of very dry conditions. So far, in October and November, storms have not brought as much rain and snow,” according to a DWR press release.

The Kern County Water Agency holds the second largest contract for state water, at nearly 1 million acre feet a a year, which it administers on behalf of 13 agricultural districts.

An initial allocation of 10% is disappointing according to agency General Manager Tom McCarthy.

“However, this is the first allocation of the water year, it should be increased throughout the year, we hope significantly, with wetter weather,” he wrote in an email. “Overall this low initial allocation is consistent with previous allocations when wet years were followed by dry fall weather.”

So far, predictions of a wet El Niño induced winter have not materialized. But last year’s epic water bounty is continuing to pay dividends.

“California’s water supply continues to benefit from our aggressive efforts last season to capture record rain and snow melt in our reservoirs and groundwater basins,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth is quoted in the state press release.

Indeed, most of the state’s reservoirs are holding more water than the historic average for this time of year, according to DWR’s water resources web page.

And things can turn around quickly. On Dec. 1, 2022, DWR estimated it would have enough water to supply just 5% of contracted amounts and ended up filling contracts at 100% with water left over.

Allocation forecasts are updated monthly as snowpack, rainfall and runoff information is assessed by DWR.

Highlights of California’s Water Supply Storage, per DWR press release:

• Last winter, a total of 3.5 million acre-feet of water was captured in SWP reservoirs. The SWP delivered 2.7 million acre-feet in allocated water plus an additional 400,000 acre-feet of supplemental water to SWP contractors in 2023.

• To date, Lake Oroville, the SWP’s largest reservoir, is at 133 percent of average.

• San Luis Reservoir, jointly operated by the SWP and federal Central Valley Project, remains at 109 percent of average. Water stored in San Luis also includes water from 2023 being stored by water contractors for use in future dry years.

• In coordination with the Metropolitan Water District, DWR provided water to fill up Diamond Valley Reservoir for the first time in three years. The facility is a critical part of the Southern California water delivery system.

• California was also able to redirect excess storm water for groundwater recharge. DWR has estimated more than 3.8 million acre-feet of recharge capacity in 2023, including more than 1.2 million acre-feet of groundwater recharge permitted by state agencies, 390,817 acre-feet of flood water recharged using the governor’s executive orders, and millions more acre-feet of managed and naturally occurring recharge.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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