Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Parched, California Cuts Off Tap to Agencies
By IAN LOVETTJAN. 31, 2014
State reservoir levels are lower in California than they were at this time in 1977, the last time the state endured a drought this severe. David Mcnew/Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — Acting in one of the worst droughts in California’s history, state officials announced on Friday that they would cut off the water that it provides to local agencies serving 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland.
With no end in sight for the dry spell and reservoirs at historic lows, Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said his agency needed to preserve what little water remained so it could be used “as wisely as possible.”
It is the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Projectthat water allocations to all of the public water agencies it serves have been cut to zero. That decision will force 29 local agencies to look elsewhere for water. Most have other sources they can draw from, such as groundwater and local reservoirs.
But the drought has already taken a toll on those supplies, and some cities, particularly in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, rely almost exclusively on the State Water Project, Mr. Cowin said.
“We’ll always keep basic human health and safety as highest priority,” he said. “We’ll try to meet those needs as best we can.”
The Metropolitan Water District, which serves much of Southern California, gets about 30 percent of its water from the State Water Project.
Most of the farmers served are in Kern County, at the southern end of the Central Valley. Kern County is a major producer of carrots.
“Our action is intended to keep as much of the remaining water supplies upstream in reservoirs,” Mr. Cowin said, “so we have it available for the warm period in the summer and fall.”
Last year was the driest on record in California, and January, usually one of the wettest months of year, has brought almost no precipitation.
In January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for California. And despite some moisture in some parts of the state this week, the news has only gotten worse in the two weeks since his proclamation.
State reservoir levels are lower than they were at this time in 1977, the last time the state endured a drought this severe. The snow pack sits at only 12 percent of normal for this time of year. And 17 rural communities are in danger of running out of water within a few months.
“Today’s action is a stark reminder that California’s drought is real,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. “We’re taking every possible step to prepare the state for the continuing dry conditions we face.”
Mr. Brown has urged Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent. In addition, a growing list of mandatory restrictions has been put in place.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has limited fishing in certain places because of low water levels. Outdoor fires have been restricted because of dry conditions that have prolonged the danger of wildfires in the state far past the usual end of fire season. TheDepartment of Forestry and Fire Protection has hired 125 more firefighters this week.
The announcement about water allotment was made Friday in part to help farmers determine what, if anything, they should plant this year.
Many ranchers, forced to buy hay to feed their cows, have sold off much of their herds, while farmers in a number of Western states have been mulling whether to let their fields lie fallow this year.
“Farmers, fish and people are all going to get less water immediately,” Mr. Cowin said. “But we think these actions will help protect our water sources in the long run.”
A version of this article appears in print on February 1, 2014, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Parched, California Cuts Off Tap to Agencies. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe