State officials announced last week that, for the first time ever, the State Water Project - a water storage and delivery system distributing water to 29 urban and agricultural water suppliers throughout California - is set to provide zero percent of the contracted water allocations in 2014.
Although local farmers under the Turlock Irrigation District do not receive water allocations from the State Water Project, the project does make deliveries to nearly two-thirds of California's population, making the zero percent allocation disastrous to many.
"A zero allotment of water is devastating," said Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres). "We must take action now to ensure that we do not revisit the situation we faced four years ago, where a quarter-million acres of productive farmland was fallowed, communities experienced unemployment rates of over 40 percent, and the state had to provide emergency food distribution."
Although the California Department of Water Resources had initially promised 5 percent of water deliveries from the State Water Project, customers of the project will get no deliveries in 2014, should the ongoing drought continue.
"The harsh weather leaves us little choice," said DWR Director Mark Cowin. "If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs."
Except for a small amount of carryover water from 2013, the zero percent allocation means deliveries to agricultural district with long-standing water rights in the Valley may be cut by 50 percent. - the maximum permitted by contract - depending on future snow survey results.
"It is our duty to give State Water Project customers a realistic understanding of how much water they will receive from the Project," said Cowin. "Simply put, there's not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project."
Although the DWR reports that nearly all the areas served by the State Water Project have other sources of water, such as groundwater and local reservoirs, over 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigation farmland are heavily dependent on the project.
While the State Water Project did have a zero percent allocation in 1991 for agriculture, cities that year received 30 percent of requested allocations, making this year's zero percent allocation to all 29 agencies the first in the project's 54-year history.
"[The] action by the DWR only illustrates how woefully unprepared we are to deal with our water system's boom and bust cycles," said Cannella. "A water system built over 50 years ago for a population half our current size is not sustainable."