Water contractors to get 10 percent of requests

Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press In this file photo, irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between the rice farms to provide water for the rice fields on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Richvale, Calif. As rain was falling this week, California's water agency initially estimated it will deliver at least 10 percent of requested allocations to State Water Project contractors.

SACRAMENTO — As rain was falling this week, California’s water agency initially estimated it will deliver at least 10 percent of requested allocations to State Water Project contractors.

The Department of Water Resources estimate was twice the amount allocated to contractors without senior water rights in 2014, and the allocation could go up if it keeps raining and snowing, officials said.

The level of Lake Oroville — the keystone reservoir of the SWP system and a source of water for 25 million Californians — is rising because of recent storms after dropping to near historic levels, the agency explained in a news release.

“Storms in the extended forecast give us hope that we will return this winter to normal or above-normal precipitation levels after three years of drought,” DWR director Mark Cowin said. “But we must be cautious and preserve adequate storage in reservoirs should conditions turn dry again.”

As of Dec. 1, Lake Oroville still held only 43 percent of the water it normally contains at this time of year, according to the DWR’s California Data Exchange Center. Shasta Lake, the centerpiece of the federal Central Valley Project, was at 39 percent of its normal level as of Dec. 1.

So far, the state has promised 418,520 acre-feet of water — a small down payment on the nearly 4.2 million acre-feet requested by the 29 public agencies that receive SWP water.

The allocation comes as some areas in Northern California remain above their normal seasonal rainfall totals after a series of Thanksgiving weekend storms. For instance, Redding sopped up 1.16 inches of rain Nov. 28-30 to enter December with 9.38 inches of rain for the season, above its average of 7.67 inches.

However, Sacramento had only collected 2.26 inches of rain for the season as of Dec. 2, down from its normal seasonal total of 3.46 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Federal forecasters have predicted a wetter-than-normal December throughout California after more rain systems moved across the state in October and November than during the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the federal Climate Prediction Center is still on a watch for El Nino, which could bring chances of above-average precipitation south of Sacramento in January and February.

However, state experts caution that it would take roughly 150 percent of average precipitation this season for California to recover from its three-year drought.

In other water-related developments, the DWR announced on Dec. 2 that residential water customers in October achieved a 6.7 percent reduction in water use from October of 2013. Year-over-year monthly residential water savings statewide dropped from 10.3 percent in September.

The agency also reported that the drought has pushed groundwater basins in most areas of the state to historically low levels. Basins with notable decreases in groundwater levels are in the Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, Tulare Lake, San Francisco Bay, Central Coast and South Coast hydrologic regions, according to the agency.

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