The state will provide just 5% of the supplies they requested for water agencies serving 27 million people on 750,000 acres (303.514 hectares). This is in addition to what's necessary for drinking, bathing, and other critical activities.
This is a decrease from the 15% allocation that state officials announced in January. It comes after a dry December fuelled hopes for a decreasing drought.
However, a rainy winter did not occur and the January-March period will be the dryest to a California year for at least a century. This is when the majority of California's snow and rain falls.
Local water agencies may place restrictions on water use for landscaping or other outdoor purposes as they struggle with limited water supplies. Karla Nemeth is the director of California Department of Water Resources.
Nemeth stated that local water agencies that are more familiar with their communities' needs will be better equipped than state officials when it comes to setting water restrictions.
She stated in an interview that she believes with the reduced allocation, more cities in California will be able to adopt mandatory water conservation.
Officials from the state will continue to urge people to cut their water consumption by 15%. This amount is intended to bring California's collective water use back down to levels that were during the drought of 2012 to 2016, Nemeth stated.
Due to warm temperatures and dry conditions, January saw a 2.6% increase in statewide water consumption.
About a third of Southern California’s water comes from the state. This is mainly through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California which supplies 19 million people. Abel Hagekhalil is the general manager of the district. He stated in a Friday statement that more needs to be done to conserve water.
He stated that everyone should take the drought seriously and increase their water-saving efforts to preserve our declining storage levels and ensure we have enough water for the summer and fall.
California is in its second acute drought in less than a decade, and scientists say the U.S. West is broadly experiencing the worst reservoirs like Lake Oroville or Shasta Lake are still below historical levels. Less water from melting snow will be flowing down the mountains this spring.
According to Alan Haynes (hydrologist at the California Nevada River Forecast Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), current predictions predict that the state will experience 57% of its historic median runoff in April and July. About a third of the state’s water supply comes from melting snow.
According to Nemeth, director of the Department of Water Resources, a very wet December resulted in snow water content at 160% above normal. However, this isn't causing as much water runoff because of warmer temperatures which are causing some of the water to evaporate and not flow into streams and rivers as it melts.
California could be affected by a persistent shortage of water, which could lead to farmers abandoning their fields or endangered salmon dying.
Water providers who rely on state water supplies have a limit on the amount of water they can request from state. State officials determine how much water providers will receive based on supply throughout the winter.
Before the snowstorm, December saw state officials inform water providers that they would not receive any beyond what was necessary for immediate safety and health, such as drinking or bathing. In January, the state increased that amount to 15%.
Critics of California's water policy claim that the state promises more water than it actually has to. According to Doug Obegi, an attorney who works for the Natural Resources Defense Council, this has led to a decrease in supply in state-run and federally owned reservoirs.
He stated that "we basically have a system which is almost bankrupt" because we promised more water than could be delivered.
Friday's announcement also included a plan to temporarily exempt Northern California's Delta from water quality regulations. This is the area of the state's watershed that contains both freshwater rivers as well as salty ocean water.
This would allow federal and state water projects to release less water from the Shasta and Folsom reservoirs into the Delta -- which are the main water sources for the state.
Water quality standards were established in part to prevent water from becoming too salty that it isn't safe for drinking, farming or protecting the environment.