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Snow Survey Leaves California’s Water Supply Lacking

Recent Storms Won’t Fend off Ongoing Drought, Water Agencies Don’t Anticipate Increased Allocation

Posted: April 1, 2014 3:09 p.m.
Updated: April 1, 2014 3:09 p.m.

Sacramento, CA – The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted one of the last snow surveys of the year today and, despite recent storms, the state’s water supply outlook remains dire. The survey determined that water content in the state’s snowpack is just 32 percent of average for this time of year.

Throughout the winter months, the state measures how much water content is in Sierra Nevada snowpack, giving water managers a predictor of how much water they can anticipate flowing into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, and then to homes, businesses and farms. This winter, snow was barely present, leading to an unprecedented allocation of zero percent for State Water Project (SWP) contractors. This means the 26 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland that depend on the SWP for a significant portion of their water supplies will likely go without it in 2014. Further straining the situation, public water agencies must continue to pay for a full allocation of water—amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars—even though they may not receive any actual deliveries.

“Even a March miracle would not have lifted California out of this drought. Water agencies across the state will be faced with finishing out this year, including the upcoming summer, without much needed State Water Project supplies,” said Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors. “Conservation efforts have been significant, but won’t be enough to protect water agencies and their customers from the impacts of losing such a major portion of their water supplies.”

Residents, businesses and farms are already dealing with the reality of drought as public water agencies are forced to make cutbacks on water deliveries. Many impacts of the drought have already been seen and there are more to come, examples include fallowed farm lands, higher food prices, and water quality issues. The impacts will likely increase as we head in to the warm summer months.

Due to the seemingly never-ending dry conditions, water levels in nearly all of the state’s major reservoirs remain well below capacity and their historical averages. San Luis Reservoir, for example, is at just 42 percent of capacity.

California lost a significant opportunity last winter to capture a great deal of water during major storms that swept through in December 2012 and January 2013. Due to regulatory restrictions, water supplies were not able to be captured when flows were abundant, resulting in a loss of 800,000 acre feet of water– water that could have served more than four million people for a year.

The fact that water managers cannot capture water when it’s abundant underscores the need to update the state’s water delivery system. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is being developed to modernize the state’s water delivery system using today’s technology to create a system with the flexibility to capture excess water during wet times and ensure water supply reliability year round. The BDCP would also protect water supplies from the threat of earthquakes or other natural disasters by moving them via tunnels underneath the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta), rather than through the network of 100 year old dirt levees. The BDCP aims to ensure that Californians have a safe, adequate water supply, while also protecting the Delta environment.

“As water agencies scramble to find enough water to meet demands this year, it’s frustrating to know that we could have had a great deal of water to fill reservoirs but we lost that opportunity,” added Erlewine.

Updating the state’s water supply system must be coupled with continued conservation efforts and local supply projects. The drought has prompted impressive water saving activities statewide. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll found that ninety-two percent of Californians reported taking actions to conserve water.

The snow survey results today coincide with many water agencies ramping up their conservation efforts even more and exploring every available option to continue being able to provide safe, secure water supplies to customers.

For more information on the SWP water allocation and the drought, please visit

To learn more about conservation programs and ideas, please visit

For more information about the BDCP, please visit

The State Water Contractors is a statewide, non-profit association of 27 public agencies from Northern, Central and Southern California that purchase water under contract from the California State Water Project. Collectively the State Water Contractors deliver water to more than 25 million residents throughout the state and more than 750,000 acres of agricultural lands. For more information on the State Water Contractors, please visit

Note: The Signal delivers press releases from reliable sources to provide up-to-the-minute information to our website readers. Information directly from news sources has not been vetted by The Signal news room. It may appear subsequently in news stories after it has been vetted.




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