The state Department of Water Resources announced Thursday that recent storms will allow the State Water Project to allocate and deliver 30% of requested water supplies, or about 1.27 million acre-feet, to contracted water agenices, including the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency.
According to officials with the Department of Water Resources, this higher allocation of water jumped from the initial 5%, which was announced on December. It’s the direct result of extreme weather in late December and nine atmospheric rivers in early January that helped fill reservoirs and dramatically increase the Sierra Nevada snowpack.
“The department runs the State Water Project, which provides water to 27 million Californians and today we are updating our allocation to 30%,” said Karla Nemeth, a director of the Department of Water Resources. “We start in December, taking a look at water that is in storage, and back on Dec. 1, the allocation was any additional health and human safety needs that our 29-state water contractors might have.”
The State Water Project’s largest reservoirs, Oroville and San Luis, have gained a combined 1.62 million acre-feet of water in storage, roughly enough to provide water to 5.6 million households for a year, according to water officials.
The updated State Water Project delivery forecast takes into account current reservoir storage and is based on a conservative runoff forecast. It does not take into account the current Sierra Nevada snowpack. The Department of Water Resources will conduct snow surveys on Feb. 1, and on the first of each month through May.
“We are still early in the season, it’s great,” Nemeth said. “Make no mistake, we are about 218% of average snowpack for this date. We are about 124% of average snowpack based on our April 1 measurements.”
Ted Craddock, deputy director who’s involved with the State Water Project, said the allocation announcement was important for the 29 agencies the department delivers water to. Lake Oroville has about 2.2 million-acre feet of storage and a combined 1.1 million-acre feet of storage through the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project at San Luis reservoir, he added.
In addition, the Department of Water Resources continues to operate pumping operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the department delivers water to San Luis reservoir.
According to water officials, the department considers multiple factors when deciding how much water resources will be allocated to the 29 agencies such as storage in the reservoirs, snowpack runoff and how much runoff is expected in the entire water system.
“Looking back at the December forecast, that’s early on the water year, prior to really getting into the peak rainy months and snow-bearing months of the season,” Craddock said. “Our forecast in December, the 5% allocation was based upon the storage that we had available in our reservoirs.”
“After the recent storms, we’ve been able to adjust upwards based upon increased storage and just increased water in the system that we’re able to anticipate what we’ll be able to provide for water supply moving forward as well,” he added.
In the Santa Clarita Valley, this new allocation is good news, according to Kathie Martin, communications manager for the SCV Water Agency.
“Depending on the water year, which starts in October, DWR issues a starting point of here’s what your allocation is going be. In 2021, it was actually zero, which has happened once before, but that was very rare.”
This year, the state announced 5%, based on the three years of “pretty extreme” drought and what the projections were going to be related to reservoir storage, she added.
The SCV agency had prepared to pull from its diverse water supply, which includes its “dry year” supply, water banks, underground aquifers in Kern County and local groundwater, she added.
“Now with this increased allocation, and as rainfall conditions improve, we many need not to take as much water from storage,” Martin said. “If they continue to improve even further, we may even be able to replace water in storage that we’ve been using over the past few years.”
According to the Department of Water Resources, the last time they allocated the highest percentage of water to its agencies was in 2019, at 70%. Since then, water allocation declined due to persisting drought conditions.
Martin reiterated a point made by officials from the Department of Water Resources that state officials and local agencies need to create improved infrastructure to capture runoff water and rainfall. The second point water officials made was for all Californians to remember that the much “welcomed” wet season did not resolve drought conditions.
“We need to find that middle ground where we have habits and water-efficient lifestyles, whether it’s an extreme dry year or an extreme wet year,” Martin said. “We need things in place that are sustainable.”