State, feds issue new water allocations

February 26, 2010 6:38:33 PM PST
The state and federal government had both good and bad news about water allocations for California for businesses and residential use, and for fish and farmers. In percentage terms, the state is offering one of the lowest allocations in history, but it is still an improvement over last year.

Snow in the Sierra and winter rains have improved the water outlook. The state Department of Water Resources says customers who buy water from the state water project will get 15 percent of the water they have requested; that is up from an estimate in November of just five percent. Still for agencies like the Santa Clara Valley Water District, it's a struggle.

"We get half of our water from the Sierra snowpack conveyed through the delta, so when we find out from our state allocation it's only going to be 15 percent, it's a pretty big hit on or supply," said Susan Siravo from the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

After three years of drought though, farmers can finally expect some relief.

On Friday the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said agricultural customers in the Central Valley would receive 30 percent of the water requested; that is up from the 10 percent they got last year. Many lawmakers are cheering that decision and so are environmentalists because the allocation keeps in place mandatory protection for fisheries in the bay delta.

"We need to be smarter down the road to avoid situations where we're having to choose farms versus protecting our fisheries," said Spreck Rosekrans from the Environmental Dense Fund.

If the rains continue, the news could be even better come late spring. That is when the Department of Water Resources re-evaluates its allocations.

One of the state's key reservoirs, Lake Oroville is still just 54 percent full. Water managers are hoping for more.

"If we continue to have average conditions this year, then we'll be able to increase our allocations up to about 35 to 40 percent," said Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin.

Even if the best case scenario plays out, water districts say conservation measures are essential and so too are long term solutions to the state's water crisis.