RED BLUFF, Calif. — Despite a couple of days of light rain in the Central Valley and some fresh snow in the mountains, a state agency has reduced its anticipated agricultural water allocation to zero because of drought.
Except for a small amount of carryover water, customers of the State Water Project will get no deliveries in 2014 if dry conditions persist and Sacramento Valley agricultural districts with long-standing water rights may only get 50 percent, the California Department of Water Resources announced Jan. 31.
“The harsh weather leaves us little choice,” DWR director Mark Cowin said in a statement. “If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs.”
In December, the DWR estimated it could deliver 5 percent of the more than 4 million acre-feet of requested water to the 29 water agencies that purchase project water.
The latest announcement followed modest storms Jan. 28-29 that dropped 0.81 inches of rain on Eureka, 0.34 inches on Redding and 0.24 inches on the Marysville-Yuba City area, according to the National Weather Service. In the mountains, the storms brought as much as a foot of snow to the highest elevations and 6 to 8 inches to Lake Tahoe ski resorts, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The rain lifted ranchers’ spirits at the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale. Chuck Macfarlane of the Macfarlane Cattle Co. in McArthur, Calif., said the ranch hasn’t yet resorted to selling livestock because of the drought, adding that he had already planned to bring bulls to the sale.
“It’s pretty dry right now,” Macfarlane said.
However, state officials said it would need to rain or snow heavily every other day between now and May to get the state back to average rain and snowfall. Even then, California would still be in a drought because 2012 and 2013 were dry, too, a DWR news release explained.
Lake Oroville, the principal State Water Project reservoir, was at 36 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity as of Jan. 31 and held little more than half the water it usually does at this time of year. Shasta Lake, the Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir, was at 36 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity, according to the DWR.
A cut to senior water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley would be the state’s first since 1992, while the State Water Project’s only previous zero-allocation for agriculture was in 1991, when cities received 30 percent of requested water, the release stated.
California snowpack: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/snowapp/sweq.action
California reservoirs: http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/resapp/getResGraphsMain.action