U.S. Water News Online
SACRAMENTO — The State of California said it would cut water deliveries to their second lowest level ever, prompting warnings of water rationing for cities and less planting by farmers.
The Department of Water Resources announced it will deliver just 15 percent of the amount that local water agencies throughout California request every year. That marks the second lowest projection since the first State Water Project deliveries were made in 1962.
Farmers in the Central Valley say they'll be forced to fallow fields, while cities from the San Francisco Bay area to San Diego might have to impose mandatory water rationing.
Mike Young, a fourth generation farmer in Kern County, called the water projections disastrous.
“For the amount of acres we've got, we're not going to have enough water to farm,” he said.
The state's reservoirs are low after two years of dry weather and court-ordered restrictions on water pumping out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This year, water agencies received just 35 percent of the water they requested.
Lake Oroville, California's second largest reservoir is usually half full this time of year but is at just 30 percent capacity.
In Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District — the agency that supplies water to about half the state's population — has depleted more than a third of its water reserves. The agency's general manager, Jeff Kightlinger, said Californians must immediately reduce their water use to stretch what little water is available.
“We are preparing for the very real possibility of water shortages and rationing throughout the region in 2009,” Kightlinger said in a statement.
The State Water Project delivers water to more than 25 million residents and 750,000 acres of farmland.
In 2006, water agencies received their full allotment, in part because of heavy rains and a thick Sierra snow pack that year. But last year, a federal court limited water pumping out of the delta to protect the threatened delta smelt.
Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow said the bleak outlook underscores the governor's call to retool California's massive water storage and delivery system.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger favors building more dams and designing a new way to funnel water through or around the environmentally fragile delta. The proposals have failed to gain traction in the Legislature.
“The governor has sounded the wake-up call, and the clock is ticking,” Snow said in a statement.
Even with the dire projection, a wet winter could mean cities and farms ultimately get more water, said Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the state water department.
That was the situation in 1993, when the state promised contractors just 10 percent of their requests, the lowest initial projection on record. That later was revised to 100 percent after the state received heavy precipitation.
Unlike then, state and federal water agencies are under a court order to cut pumping from the delta because a federal judge last year ruled that the giant pumps were harming threatened fish.
“We are anticipating drastically reduced water supplies, regardless of weather conditions,” Laura King Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Contractors, said in a statement.
Farmers also are making decisions now on what to plant next year. Based on the state's initial projection, Young, the Kern County farmer, said he would be forced to fallow a fifth of his 5,000 acres.
The little water coming to him will go to his permanent crops — pistachio, almond and cherry trees — while most of his tomatoes and alfalfa will not get planted.
“We've got to start spending money on next year's crop now,” Young said. “Anyone whose pulling water off the State Water Project is going through the same thing.”
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