Water Storage Update and Drinking Water Week

Happy Tuesday! And it’s Tuesday of National Drinking Water Week. I forgot too! May is also Water Awareness Month in California. I expect we will be hearing a lot about the importance of conservation in the days ahead. Actually, you will probably notice the roll-out of a new term, “Water Use Efficiency,” instead of boring old, so-last-year, “Water Conservation.” Here is the link to the EPA’s site on Drinking Water Week: http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/waterweek/index.html
So how “efficient” do we need to be here in California this year? Our water storage picture has improved dramatically in the past couple of weeks, thanks to some cold, late Spring storms. The accompanying chart — which we have featured a few times in the past couple of months — is courtesy the California Department of Water Resources. It shows that we are just short of the highest storage level in our largest reservoir — Lake Oroville — since August 2007.
DWR also reports that our frozen reservoir — the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada — is at 143 percent of normal for this time of the year. Also good news.
However, we began this year with a serious shortage in our water savings account, and we are nowhere near fully repaid. In an attempt to put some water back in the bank, DWR is restricting water deliveries this year. As anticipated, the restrictions are not as severe as we feared a few months ago: the allocation is 40 percent.
Now 40 percent is nowhere near 100 percent, but most municipal water service providers do not need 100 percent every year to satisfy their customers’ needs. For most of these users, 40 percent is tight, but manageable — but we sure could use more next year! Municipal water agencies are taking water from their own storage accounts, using more local groundwater, and purchasing water from other users.
But who are these other users, and how can they get by with less than 40 percent? Mostly, these are agricultural users. If they can’t get enough water for their crops, they just don’t grow them. So even a little remaining water becomes “extra.” Financially, many of them can make more money selling water to cities than growing crops — at least in a water-short year.
So who loses here? Mostly, it’s the people who work in the agricultural sector, and all the communities whose main revenue is from agriculture.
In the cities, we will hear the call for efficient use of water, and I expect that we will respond well. But a 40 percent allocation is going to be felt very harshly throughout the agricultural communities of the San Joaquin Valley. And when the folks in the cities pay more for food in the coming months, they are likely to blame greedy grocery stores. But the real culprits are the weather of the past three years and environmental restrictions on water deliveries.

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