California officials anticipate releasing one-fifth of water sought for state residents, farms

Associated Press

Water districts that serve 25 million Californians and vast farmland can expect to receive a fraction of the supplies sought from the state during the fourth year of the drought, officials announced Monday.

The State Water Project plans to deliver 20 percent of the requested amounts — a figure that marks a 5 percent increase from its previous estimate in January.

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However, it's the second-lowest amount since 1991, according to the California Department of Water Resources, which provides water to districts in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

"It's a big deal, each little amount of water that we get," said Curtis Creel, assistant general manager of the Kern County Water Agency based in the agriculture-rich Central Valley. "The higher allocation does give us a little bit of breathing room compared to last year."

Creel said the agency will be forced to draw on reserve water stored underground. Some farmers will have to rely on ground water or leave fields unplanted.

State officials said large storms in December and February along with careful management have put state reservoirs at higher levels than a year ago.

"We're confident that this water, delivered to local districts around the state, will help offset some economic harm of this extended drought," Mark Cowin, director of the state's Department of Water Resources, said in a statement.

Surveyors on Tuesday are expected to make the third measurement of the snowpack for the wet season.

So far, officials say electronic readings show the snowpack at 19 percent of the normal water content for this time of year. Snowpack is also a key contributor to the state water supply.

Federal water officials said last week that some Central California farmers can expect to receive no irrigation water through the Central Valley Project.