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Executive Summary for January 20th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California, including an update on drought conditions and State Water Project allocations. We also look at whether the water board will renew emergency drought rules.

Published on Jan. 20, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Drought Update

After yet another week of rain and snowstorms, California’s drought continues to ease. In the past week there have been changes in the snowpack, reservoir levels and areas of drought.

Most major reservoirs across the state are doing well. Shasta is at 122 percent of the average for this time of year and 80 percent of capacity. Oroville is 124 percent of average and 79 percent of capacity. Don Pedro is 132 percent of average and 89 percent of capacity. Of the largest reservoirs, New Melones is the lowest, at 63 percent of average and 37 percent of capacity.

As of Jan. 19, the snow water equivalents in the Sierra are 163 percent of average for this time of year and 82 percent of the April 1 average.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s updated numbers for this week show small changes in the area of drought. Areas under severe and exceptional drought designation fell slightly from 49 to 44 percent of the state. Just over 2 percent of the state, around Santa Barbara county, remains the only area of exceptional drought.

State Water Project Allocation Increases

With both precipitation and snowpack doing very well so far this year, the Department of Water Resources on Wednesday increased its projected allocation for contractors of the State Water Project.

The DWR set the allocation at 60 percent of requested water – an increase from 45 percent at the last notice and 20 percent earlier in the water year.

“Our water supply outlook is definitely brighter, but we still haven’t shaken off the effects of our historic drought,” said DWR acting director William Croyle. “Californians in some areas still depend on bottled drinking water, some reservoirs remain low and groundwater basins are still in decline and have yet to recover. We know from painful history that California winters can go quickly from very wet to very dry. We want to see the snowpack continue to build for the remainder of the wet season.”

The last time SWP contractors received a 100 percent allocation was in 2006. In 2016 they received 60 percent, in 2015 20 percent; the number was as low as 5 percent in 2014.

Drought Rules to Remain?

With snow piling up in the Sierra Nevada, and reservoirs across the state refilling, many water agencies are pressing the state to drop its emergency conservation regulations.

In a meeting on Wednesday, the agencies petitioned the State Water Board to drop conservation requirements and not renew them at the end of February, although emergency drought regulations were lessened considerably in spring last year and statewide mandatory requirements are no longer in place. Instead, agencies must submit “stress tests” that show water planning can meet demand for three years under drought conditions.

The water board plans to vote on the matter next month, but indications are that it may act cautiously and keep regulations in place until after the wet season ends, reported the Sacramento Bee.

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