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Environment & Science

State Water Project reservoirs may deliver just 5 percent of what users demand, says DWR

A view of Lake Oroville from the Lime Saddle area, near Paradise. The reservoir is at 41% of capacity.
A view of Lake Oroville from the Lime Saddle area, near Paradise. The reservoir is at 41% of capacity.

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The California Department of Water Resources announced Wednesday one of the smallest initial allocations of water from state-run reservoirs. The year's first allocation calls for recipients of these supplies, including Southern California water agencies, to receive just 5 percent of what they've requested for 2014. 

Officials are basing the delivery amount on water levels in three reservoirs in Northern California: Lake Oroville, Lake Shasta, and San Luis Reservoir. All of them are roughly at or below 40 percent of capacity right now. 

Still, it's a somewhat routine announcement. The first allocation of the year is typically conservative, because it comes out before what is usually the wettest part of the year. Half of the state's precipitation falls between December and February. The 2014 water allocation is likely to nudge upward if the past is any guide.

This year's first allocation estimate of five percent ties the lowest initial figure announced in 2010. But enough rain and snow eventually fell that winter to boost the actual allocation to 50 percent of demand. Still, if state water managers are right, California is poised to enter its third year of drought and that would likely mean a lot less water for Southern California next year. 

Wednesday's announcement also comes at critical time for DWR's efforts to remake the state's water storage and aqueduct network. Next month California water managers are scheduled to open the public comment period for their Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a multi-agency strategy for improving the ecology of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while shoring up the state's water supplies. Supporters of the plan, including vested interest groups like the State Water Contractors and the California Farm Water Coalition, say DWR's allocation announcement underscores the need to overhaul the state's water delivery system.