Calif.’s State Water Project boosts allocation to 20 percent

California Department of Water Resources Water levels were low at San Luis Reservoir in Gustine, Calif., during the severe drought, August 19, 2014. The reservoir holds 627,000 acre-feet more water than it did at this time a year ago.

SACRAMENTO — Early-season storms will enable the State Water Project to increase its anticipated deliveries from 15 percent to 20 percent, the agency has announced.

Abundant rainfall in early December and for a few days in mid-February enabled the state Department of Water Resources to send water to the San Luis Reservoir south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to serve customers during dry months.

The reservoir near Los Banos, Calif., holds 627,000 acre-feet more water than it did at this time a year ago, so state water managers will be able to leave water in Lake Oroville in case the drought persists late this year and into 2016, officials explained.

“We’re able to go up a bit … because of the storms in December and February,” DWR spokesman Ted Thomas said. “It’s kind of an important thing to note that the reason we are confident we can deliver 20 percent is we took advantage of the runoff from the two storm systems to pump water into San Luis Reservoir south of the Delta.”

The state increase comes as many farmers who rely on federal Central Valley Project have learned they will likely get none again this year. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation must contend with a more complicated step-ladder of senior and junior water rights, whereas the state can make across-the-board allocations to its 29 water-district contractors, Thomas said.

“They are delivering a substantial amount of water” to senior rights-holders along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, Thomas said. “They’re not at a zero allocation for everyone.”

In all, the DWR expects to deliver 840,000 acre-feet of the nearly 4.2 million acre-feet requested by contractors, the agency explained in a news release. A 20 percent allocation would be the second-lowest since 1991, when agricultural customers of the project got a zero allocation and municipal customers received 30 percent, according to the DWR.

Last year the state delivered just 5 percent of requested water to contractors after allocating as much as 80 percent three years earlier.

“We welcome the much-needed, modest increase in water supplies,” State Water Contractors general manager Terry Erlewine said in a statement. “The severe multi-year drought has created a water supply deficit that will not be easy to close, and we need to capture what we can before winter is over.”

The DWR made its announcement March 2 as rain was still falling in some parts of the state after a weekend system that brought heavy downpours to Southern California, light showers in the Central Valley and 12 to 18 inches of snow in the Sierra Nevada.

Thomas said the state’s allocation could increase again if forecasts for a wet March prove true, although he doesn’t think an increase is likely.

“I don’t see them (allocations) improving but we’re still hoping they will,” he said. “We’ve had significant precipitation in March in years past. Right at this moment it doesn’t appear promising but we’re hoping things change.”

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