The Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced on Wednesday that the initial 2022 State Water Project (SWP) will be at 0% for the first time in state history due to the ongoing drought.
The decision by the State Water Project, which is one water source out of several for 29 districts that cover 27 million residents and 750,000 acres of farmland in California through a system of dams, reservoirs, and canals, is only the latest water reduction measure employed by the state this year. Local water districts throughout the year have employed voluntary reductions, with the state adding more and more counties to the drought State of Emergency, until October when Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all counties would be covered due to the severity of the drought.
Higher temperatures, a reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, lower precipitation levels, and the state releasing large amounts of water solely for environmental reasons, are issues the state says caused the drought, which has become California’s worst in decades and may last as long as the mid-2010’s drought that saw statewide water restrictions be implemented. The DWR’s previous 0% yearly allocation amount, came in 2014 during that drought, highlighting the severity of where the drought is projected to be next year.
According to officials on Wednesday, the 0% allocation may be only the initial setback for net year, with mandatory water restrictions and other measures likely coming next year.
“Despite a wet start to the water year, conditions have dried out since that first storm and we are still planning for a below-average water year. That means we need to prepare now for a dry winter and severe drought conditions to continue through 2022,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in a statement on Wednesday. “We will be working with our federal partners and SWP contractors to take a conservative planning approach to balance limited water supplies with the needs of residents, businesses, and the environment.”
“It is going to take a multi-pronged approach to successfully respond to these unprecedented drought conditions. If conditions continue to be this dry, we will see mandatory cutbacks.”
While the DWR will release some water next year to water districts, it will only be for critical health and safety reasons and not a part of the official allocation that gives water for general purposes like irrigation and landscaping reasons. The state can also raise the allocated amount in early 2022 based on how much water winter storms and snowpack melt give, but it is largely dependent on just how wet this winter will be throughout the state.
Following the announcement on Wednesday, many water districts in the affected areas immediately issued statements calling for residents to reduce water usage even further to combat the 0% allocation.
“The dramatic reduction of our northern California supplies means we all must step up our conservation efforts,” said Metropolitan Water District of Southern California General Manager Adel Hagekhalil on Thursday. “Reduce the amount you are watering outside by a day, or two. Take shorter showers. Fix leaks. If we all do our part, we’ll get through this together.”
Water experts noted on Thursday that the 0% allocation would likely put pressure on water districts to enact more stringent reductions sooner rather than later, with many areas looking for any possible new resources in the coming years.
“More and more places are looking for new water resources,” said water engineer Shane Alexander, who has worked on numerous water projects in California and with other Western states currently affected by the drought, to the Globe. “On the coast, desalination plants are on the rise, with a ton being planned in the coming years. Many are using Carlsbad as a model, and environmentalists are being put more at ease by green space initiatives around the plant and clean energy powering them as a way to offset any concerns.”
“Some ideas, like piping in water from the Mississippi River or the Great Lakes, are a literal pipe dream, but we’re looking at alternatives seriously now, so we may see some big advances in water reclamation, desalinization, and even things like newer agricultural methods in the coming years with global implications. These new allocations, well, they’re not great, but they are making us figure out more clearly on what to do with less water.”
In addition to the restrictions, SWP operations are planned to be improved statewide to capture and store water as much as possible, with a special focus put on the San Francisco Bay area. The reservoirs in Northern California have the lowest levels in the state, prompting the DWR to try and get the maximum amount of water possible into places like Lake Oroville for next year.
The water allocations amounts will likely fluctuate based on an increase of water going into the DWR system, with final allocations to be set by May 2020.
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