The State Department of Water Resources took an unprecedented step on Tuesday when it came to cutting back its water supply delivery.

The department announced a cut back of its initial water delivery it announced in December from 10 percent in half to five percent. The department stated the allocation is based on conservative assumptions regarding hydrology and factors such as reservoir storage.

The department added allocations are reviewed monthly and may change based on snowpack and runoff. The department's final allocation is scheduled to come in May.

In recent years the department has provided an initial allocation of 10 percent with a final allocation in May of 20 percent. But based on what the department did on Tuesday it would seem even a 20 percent allocation in May would be in jeopardy unless the state unexpectedly receives a considerable amount of late spring rain and snow.

The­­ 5 ­­­­percent allocation means the initial allocation has been reduced in half from more than 420,000 acre feet to 210,266 acre-feet of water distributed among the 29 contractors who serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.

“We are now facing the reality that it will be a second dry year for California and that is having a significant impact on our water supply,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “The Department of Water Resources is working with our federal and state partners to plan for the impacts of limited water supplies this summer for agriculture as well as urban and rural water users. We encourage everyone to look for ways to use water efficiently in their everyday lives.”

So federal, state and local agencies will have to work together to somehow make sure those in agriculture receive the water they need this year through drought conditions.

The State Water Resources Control Board mailed early warning notices to approximately 40,000 water right holders urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures.

“Start planning now for potential water supply shortages later this year and identify practical actions you can take to increase drought resilience, such as increasing water conservation measures, reducing irrigated acreage, managing herd size, using innovative irrigation and monitoring technologies, or diversifying your water supply portfolio,” the letter stated.

A drought hasn't officially been declared yet but Governor Gavin Newsom, who's the only one who has authority to declare a drought. But DWR did submit a revised Drought Contingency Plan to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

DWR stated it didn't anticipate the need to pursue a Temporary Urgency Change Petition to allow for temporary changes to the water quality and outflow requirements for the Delta River. 

The department stated the severity of the situation is particularly evident in the northern part of the state. Lake Oroville is currently at 53 percent of average. The Feather River watershed, which feeds into Lake Oroville, has seen significantly less precipitation this year than normal, on track for its second driest year on record, the department stated. Following a below average 2020 water year, California’s major reservoirs are at 50 percent of capacity.

The department did say the state is better prepared for drought than in the past. Following the 2012-2016 drought, the department enacted many programs focused on managing the state’s water with a strong emphasis on water use efficiency and conservation. The state now provides assistance to local water agencies to help them deal with drought conditions. The department's Water Use and Efficiency Branch provides agencies and individuals assistance for improving water use efficiency and meeting efficient water use requirements.

For information on current water conditions at the state’s largest reservoirs and weather stations, visit

The federal Central Valley Project didn't announce a reduction in water delivery locally for the Friant Division for now. The Friant division is still set to receive 20 percent of a Class I allocation which equates to 160,000 acre feet. But CVP did announce the original 5 percent water allocation set for customers south of the Delta isn't available at this time.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, recently declared 50 counties as natural disaster areas, including Tulare County, due to drought, making farmers eligible for emergency loans and other assistance.

The U.S. Drought Monitor last week showed how bleak the situation is. All of the San Joaquin Valley is considered to be in at least a moderate or severe drought. All of Tulare County is considered to be in a severe drought and a small portion of the county is considered to be in an extreme drought.

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