California’s public water agencies will receive zero water supplies from the State Water Project (SWP) in 2022, informs The Guardian. The decision reflects severe drought conditions in California. The State will prioritize water for human health and safety needs, as well as for salinity control in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, for endangered species, water to reserve in storage, and water for additional supply allocations if the hydrology allows. “We need to prepare now for a dry winter and severe drought conditions to continue through 2022,” said Karla Nemeth, Director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).
The California State Water Project, owned and operated by the DWR, is a water storage and delivery system including canals, pipelines, reservoirs and hydro power facilities that deliver water to more than 27 million residents, more than 750,000 acres of agricultural land and businesses. It was designed to deliver 4.2 million acre-feet per year, but the SWP contractors that deliver the water to farms, homes and industry have historically received only part of their allocation: a 60% long-term average, with much lower allocations in dry years. About 70% of the water goes to residential, municipal and industrial use, with the remaining 30% used for irrigation. The SWP shares some facilities with the federal Central Valley Project, owned and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, which serves primarily agricultural users.
The water allocation differs each year and is revised over the course of the year to reflect the actual and forecast water supply. The initial allocation in early December helps water contractors plan for the coming year. The allocation was already low in 2021, 10% initially, then revised down to 5% in March.
The 0% allocation from the SWP does not mean Californians will not have water for basic needs. Water from the SWP is a portion of California’s water portfolio; water agencies also rely on other sources, including groundwater and the Colorado River. The DWR guarantees water for minimum health and safety needs, which include domestic supply, fire protection and sanitation needs, determined to be no more 55 gallons per capita per day, if water agencies cannot get water from other sources.
Last July, Governor Newsom called on Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15% to protect water reserves if drought conditions continue. Some water districts such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies water to about 19 million people, have already called for increased conservation measures. Nemeth said the state could set mandatory restrictions if voluntary efforts to conserve water are not enough and local districts don’t set their own restrictions.