The only consolation for farmers so far when it comes to the water they're expected to receive is it's still early.
It's been a dry winter so far and since the state is off to a dry start to the winter, the California Department of Water Resources announced last week an initial allocation from the State Water Project of just 10 percent of what's requested.
The DWR stated the initial allocation is based on what's expected as far as conservation and reservoir storage. Allocations are reviewed monthly and change based on snowpack and what's expected to run off from the snowpack.
So obviously it's hoped there will be a lot of rain and a lot of snow in the mountains this winter. But the Farmer's Almanac forecast for the 2021 winter isn't encouraging.
Its forecast calls for a cold, dry winter in Central California. The DWR's water allocation is expected to be finalized in May.
“While we still have several months ahead of us, dry conditions persist,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “As communities throughout California prepare to support their environment and economies through times of extended dry periods, state agencies plan together to support those communities. Californians can help by always using water carefully, inside and outside their homes and businesses.”
DWR’s eight precipitation stations in Northern California recorded a record-low zero percent of average rainfall in October and 53 percent of average in November.
Most of the state’s major reservoirs are lower compared to a year ago. Lake Shasta, the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 75 percent of average as compared to 119 percent in 2019. San Luis Reservoir, a joint-use facility for the SWP and CVP, is a little above last year's level at this time of the year, holding 76 percent as compared to 72 percent last year.
The 10 percent initial allocation amounts to 422,848 acre-feet of water, distributed among 29 SWP contractors who serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. Last year’s initial allocation was also 10 percent with a final allocation of 20 percent set in May.
So farmers will have to continue to depend on other sources of water such as rivers, groundwater and local reservoirs.
Nearly all areas served by the SWP have sources of water other than the SWP allocation, such as the Central Valley Project, streams, groundwater, and local reservoirs. And it's still expected those sources will be able to meet water needs.
It's the third straight year the initial allocation has been 10 percent. Before the past three years, the initial allocation in recent years has been between 20 and 40 percent. But environmental standards has caused water supplies to the Central Valley to be diverted in a significant way.
Despite the less-than-optimistic outlook for a wet winter, water managers still say they're hopeful conditions will improve before the final allocation expected in May. And even if the area has an overall dry winter, a late wet winter in late February and March would definitely help.
Locally, repairs should begin on the Friant-Kern Canal in the Lindsay-Strathmore-Porterville area next year which should help ease the burden on groundwater and improve the canal's ability to deliver water somewhat.
Congress should also pass their appropriations bills soon which is expected to provide another $71 million in repairs for the Friant-Kern Canal next year.