Higher Water Allocations from State Doesn't Lessen Need to Conserve, Officials Say

The Department of Water Resources (DWR), the supplier of fresh water to over 25 million Californians, announced Monday that this week’s rainfall allowed for the 2015 water allocation for customers of the State Water Project (SWP) to be set at 10 percent, a surprising increase from the 5 percent mark last year.

The rainfall that has fallen on the state this week has provided reservoirs with a slight break from the historic drought that has dried the state over the past three years, however, DWR Director Mark Cowin stated that despite the wet weather the focus of Californians should still be on conservation.

“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,” Cowin said in a statement. “But we must be cautious and preserve adequate storage in reservoirs should conditions turn dry again.”

The SWP is a water storage and delivery system that services 29 urban and agricultural water suppliers throughout the state. Seventy percent of SWP water is allocated for urban use while the remaining 30 percent goes toward agriculture.

The Metropolitan Water District (MWD), one of the 29 SWP agencies, provides Long Beach with nearly 40 percent of its water. The MWD receives nearly half of its supply from the state and half from the Colorado River Basin with the remainder of its water coming from underground sources—ones that are at historic lows statewide. The MWD requested 2,000,000 acre-feet (enough water to cover an acre of land with one foot of water or enough to provide for a family of 4 for a year) of water for 2015 but is only expected to receive about 200,000 acre-feet.

Long Beach Water Department General Manager Kevin Wattier said that even with the 1.2 million acre-feet the MWD is expecting to pump from the Colorado River Basin, the MWD will still be staring down a shortage of about 600,000 acre-feet next year. The MWD is expected to invoke a shortage as soon January.

“Ten percent is obviously better than 5 percent but it’s not nearly enough,” Wattier said. “We’ll be short next year.”

Wattier noted that this is an initial allocation and the final figure will ultimately be decided by what happens in the next 4 months. The 10 percent projection stood out to Wattier though given the low levels of Lake Oroville, the SWP’s main reservoir.

“If it’s drier than normal, or drier what they’ve assumed then it will be reduced,” Wattier said of the DWR’s water allocation for next year. “But everyone that I talked to was surprised that it was 10 percent because the main reservoir in Lake Oroville is only holding about two-thirds as much water today as it was one year ago when the allocation was five percent.”

Last year, in response to the State’s worsening drought conditions, the DWR reduced its initial allocation number from 5 percent to zero for all 29 of the SWP contractors. However, rainfall brought by storms in the early portion of 2014 allowed the DWR to bump the allocation number back up to 5 percent. The allocation number has never hit zero for urban usage in the 54-year history of the SWP, but in 1991 allocation for agriculture was set at zero.

The final SWP allocation figures have been in steady decline since 2006 when it issued its last 100 percent allocation. The figure last peaked in 2011 with an 80 percent approval—up from the an initial allocation of 25 percent—to 65 percent in 2012, 35 percent in 2013 and hitting the historical low of 5 percent last year. Wattier said the MWD needs about 40 percent allocation to meet their water needs next year.

Despite the projected shortage for the MWD, Wattier explained that the MWD has informed the Long Beach Water Department it will only face a cut to 100 gallons per-capita per day, down from its current level which sits at just over 109 gallons per-capita per day. He is still pushing residents to cut back their usage by 10 percent, a tall order given that the city is already down about 17 percent from historical water usage rates.

“Long Beach is in a very good position because of its very low, outstanding per-capita water use,” Wattier said. “No matter how bad their shortage gets, they wont cut us anymore. But if we could reduce demand by a little less than 10 percent from where we are today, we will not have any shortage of water in Long Beach.”

The department has continued their campaign to educate customers about water conservation by reminding them to let the rain water their lawns instead of their sprinkler systems and implementing tighter restrictions in the wake of the Long Beach Board of Water Commissioners invoking the first ever Stage 1 Water Supply Shortage last month.

Wattier said he’s confident that people understand that it’s going to take more than a little rain to fix three years of dryness. State water experts predict it would take about 1.5 times more rain than the State average to undo the damage from the current drought which is the equivalent of 75 inches by the end of next September. Southern California is nearing its historic rainfall average of 15 inches for the year but Wattier said he wouldn’t mind about 10 more storms like this to pass through the area.

“We’re a long way from being out of this drought,” Wattier said.

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