Recent storms ease pressure on California water managers
(CN) — California officials said Thursday that recent storms have allowed the State Water Project to significantly boost water allocations to 29 public water agencies. In December, officials announced they could send only 5% of what the agencies had requested. That estimate has now been boosted to 30%, a six-fold increase.
“Thanks to the water captured and stored from recent storms, the state is increasing deliveries to local agencies that support two-thirds of Californians — good news for communities and farms in the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California,” Governor Newsom said in a statement.
California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth agreed the storms were good news, but at a press conference offered a note of caution.
"We are not out of drought in California, but this certainly makes a significant dent," she said, adding, "We are cautiously optimistic with this 30%."
The state has seen heavy rains and snow in December and January, helping to fill reservoirs and dramatically increase the Sierra Nevada snowpack. The State Water Project's two largest reservoirs, Lake Oroville and San Luis, have gained a combined 1.62 million acre-feet of water in storage in the last two months, about enough to provide water to 5.6 million households for a year.
According to the Department of Water Resources' website, Lake Oroville is currently 63% full, or 110% of its historic average. San Luis is 56% full, or 77% of its historic average.
The new water allocation takes into account these new reservoir levels, but not the new snowpack level. A new snow survey will be taken next week, and could provide even more good news for the long drought-stricken state.
Still, officials were quick to point out the last two wet months could be followed by dry ones. In 2021, California had its snowiest December in half a century. But the rest of the winter was largely dry, and the state remained mired in drought.
In May 2021, the state imposed mandatory emergency drought regulations — restrictions on water usage for every Californian. Those restrictions remain in place.
"We are still early in the season," Nemeth said. "It’s great, make no mistake. But we want to be cautious as we move through the remaining winter and spring months."