What to Know About California’s Boosted Water Allocations
California’s reservoirs are filled to the brim. Our snowpack is epic. And, in what feels like a near-miraculous turn of events, less than 8 percent of the state is still considered to be in a drought.
Another perk of this water bounty: The two biggest water systems that send clean water throughout California will both, for the first time in nearly two decades, deliver all of the water requested by cities, farms and businesses. This is great news for a state that was mired in extreme drought and struggling to survive off reduced water supplies for years.
“I think everybody is thrilled,” said Laura Ramos, interim director of research and education at the California Water Institute at Cal State Fresno.
Why do these water systems matter?
As you’re well aware, it doesn’t rain equally across California. So the state has storage and conveyance systems that capture water in its precipitation-blessed far north and northeast regions and transport it through a series of reservoirs, dams, rivers and aqueducts to the rest of the state.
The two largest systems are the State Water Project, which provides clean water for 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland, and the federal Central Valley Project, which primarily serves the state’s behemoth agricultural industry. These systems are crucial for the running water we have in our homes year-round.
But in recent, exceptionally dry years, the State Water Project, which is managed by the California Department of Water Resources, and the Central Valley Project, which is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, could dole out only small allocations of water. In 2021 and 2022, the State Water Project provided just 5 percent of the water requested, prompting water districts across the state to impose conservation measures and draw on their own stored water to meet demand.
Last month Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that, thanks to a historically wet winter, the State Water Project would begin providing all of the water requested, for the first time since 2006. The Central Valley Project will also deliver 100 percent of its water allocations to most regions it serves, for the first time since 2017.
“It’s just been a phenomenally wet year,” said Jay Lund, vice director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis.
What impact will this have?
This provides some immediate relief to farmers, and it means that water supplies are generally less tight statewide — but “it’s not a free-for-all,” said Rebecca Kimitch, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
For two straight years, she said, the district received just 5 percent of the water it requested from the State Water Project — an “absolutely unheard-of” allocation level that forced the district not just to impose tight water-use restrictions but also to draw down water from the state’s reservoirs and groundwater basins. (In a normal year, the State Water Project provides about 30 percent of the district’s water.)
So this year’s bountiful water allocations need to be used to replenish those drained resources, Kimitch said. “We’ve got a pretty big hole to fill,” she said.
Water agencies and municipalities must continually plan for drier years by recharging groundwater and other water storage when they can, Lund told me. There’s no guarantee that this coming winter will be as rainy as the last, and the state is prone to big swings in water conditions. And while conditions in California were greatly improved this year, the Colorado River, a critical source of water for our state, is still shrinking.
“The drought might be over, but water scarcity is not,” Lund said. “Basically, every year water managers have to be prepared for both flood and drought.”
He added: “That’s just what nature gives us here, and climate change looks like it’s going to be making more of that.”
If you read one story, make it this
Angelenos are still looking for ways to keep the memory of P-22 alive.
The rest of the news
Reparations: A California panel approved recommendations that could mean hundreds of billions of dollars in payments to Black residents to address past injustices.
A fishy mystery: Scientists are unsure why the six-foot-long, deep-sea-dwelling lancetfish keeps washing up on West Coast beaches.
Land back: In the 1950s, the city of Los Angeles displaced hundreds of Latino families from the land currently occupied by Dodgers Stadium. Now, descendants are seeking land reparations.
Wildfires displace Indigenous groups: More than a century ago, European settlers barred Indigenous communities from practicing cultural burning as a means to manage wildfire risk. Now, larger and more severe wildfires are displacing Indigenous people from their ancestral homes, The Los Angeles Times reports.
U.C. Davis stabbings: The 21-year-old former U.C. Davis student who was arrested in connection with a series of stabbings that rocked the Davis community pleaded not guilty to murder charges on Friday, The Associated Press reports.
Chico shooting: A 17-year-old girl was killed and five other people were wounded in a shooting at a party near California State University in Chico early Saturday, The Associated Press reports.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Linda Robertson, who recommends Cambria along Highway 1 on the Central Coast:
“Moonstone Beach in Cambria is lovely — a nice easy stroll along the oceanfront boardwalk. You can spot whales seasonally, sea birds and just enjoy the beauty of the landscape. The quaint downtown has many nice restaurants and shops. The Cambria Pines Lodge is a beautiful historic place to stay with great accommodations and beautiful grounds; nice restaurant with great food. You can easily take small side trips to Morro Bay or visit the Piedras Blancas beach area just north of San Simeon, where elephant seals call ‘home’ while not out at sea. You can view them year-round. We visit several times/year. Any season is great.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
My colleague Jill Cowan reported on the enduring fame of P-22, a mountain lion that became an icon for Angelenos.
While there have been plenty of famous domesticated animals, we want to hear about any wild animals that became celebrities to you. Did you have a bird, bear or deer in your community that you got attached to? Tell us about it and why you became a fan. Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions.
And before you go, some good news
The New York Times asked students around the country what they think is the best part about being a kid. They answered: freedom and independence, hanging out with friends, dreaming about the future and more.
Here’s what Roy, a high schooler in Los Angeles, shared:
“I believe that the years that pass by when you are a teenager are the most eventful and free years of your life. It’s the time in your life when you are surrounded by the least problems and responsibilities. Yes, you do have to wake up every day and go to school, but even that is something you should be grateful and happy for. It’s an environment where you are able to interact and connect with your friends. That isn’t something you will have once you turn into an adult. Personally, I am able to show my true self when I’m around my friends, and school allows me to be that on a daily basis. I would never sacrifice these amazing aspects of being a teenager for even a split second as an adult.”
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Briana Scalia and Johnna Margalotti contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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