Four years of drought have left some California reservoirs at all-time lows, says a new report.
State officials warn that unless California has a wet winter, more cuts in water use will be required next summer.Thirty-nine counties already are rationing water, and water allotments to farmers were cut this summer.
Water officials say California's reservoirs now have only about 60 percent of the water storage they should have at this time of year. The amount of water stored in California's 162 largest reservoirs is the lowest since the drought began in 1987.
"We have to be concerned because the storage is the lowest of the four-year period," said Maurice Roos, chief of hydrology for the state Department of Water Resources.
"If we have rainfall comparable to what we had this past year, we're going to have about a 10 percent cut in supply," he said. "Some areas are going to hurt more than others. I would expect much larger reductions to agriculture."
Rainfall statewide averaged about 68 percent of normal during this year's water year, the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30.
According to the new drought report by the state Department of Water Resources, water agencies supplying urban users met about 99 percent of their demands this year, while those supplying both municipal and agricultural users met about 86 percent of their demands. Agencies supplying only agricultural users met only about 67 percent of their demands, the report said.
As bad as this year was, most areas of the state are in better shape than they were in 1977, according to officials. While the statewide water storage this year is about 60 percent of normal, it was 35 percent of average in 1977 after two critically dry years.
Last May's precipitation helped many areas avoid a much drier predicament. Heavy rainstorms, particularly in extreme Northern California, replenished some reservoirs and overall added 5 percent to California's water storage.
The region hit the hardest by drought is the central coast, the area between San Jose and Santa Barbara. The state Department of Water Resources said that area had had the driest four-year period on record.
In the Central Valley, the current drought is the worst in more than 50 years. The driest four-year period in the Central Valley was between 1931 and 1934, when runoff was about 49 percent of average. Over the last four years, runoff has been about 56 percent of average.
But the picture is not as gloomy in other areas. Shasta Reservoir on the upper Sacramento River is significantly higher than it was in 1977, thanks in part to a decision to drain down Folsom Lake on the American River, reserving the cold water in Shasta for release this fall when salmon are migrating upstream.
Supplies to agriculture from the State Water Project were cut by 50 percent this year, and water supplied to agriculture from the federal government's Central Valley Project were cut by between 25 and 50 percent.
To cope with the reduced water supplies, farmers increased pumping from wells, reduced the amount of acreage they had historically irrigated, switched to crops requiring less water and, in some cases, did not plant second crops in late summer.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service