The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has capped this year’s allocation of water to State Water Project (SWP) contractors, which deliver to more than 25 million residents and more than 750,000 acres of farmland, at just 15% of their requests describing prevailing water conditions as “severe”.

State governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last Friday, February 27, declared a state of emergency, ordering immediate action to manage crisis and warning he will consider mandatory rationing if it does not ease.

He said: “Even with the recent rainfall, California faces its third consecutive year of drought and we must prepare for the worst – a fourth, fifth or even sixth year of drought.

“This drought is having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy and our environment making today’s action absolutely necessary. This is a crisis, just as severe as an earthquake or raging wildfire, and we must treat it with the same urgency.”

It is the first time the DWR has been unable to increase its water allocation since 2001.

It says recent rains were not “significant enough to replenish reservoirs”, which are at near historic lows.

Department director Lester Snow said: “Despite recent storms and more rain expected later this week, water conditions in the state remain severe.

Californians must conserve now to ensure there is enough water to meet the state’s basic water needs for the future.”

Department delivery allocations have only been lower than 15 percent on two other occasions since it began allocating water in 1968: 10 percent in February 1991 and briefly in 1993.

SWP contractors will have to rely on dry water year contingency plans to meet their needs although the DWR says the allocation could rise in later months if precipitation increases and water supplies improve.

It is helping local water agencies develop plans to cope with the drought and has set up a statewide Drought Operations Centre and an updated drought website to help agencies and residents cut urban water use

Governor Schwarzenegger’s has called on urban water users to cut consumption by 20%.

And, he has ordered a California wide water conservation campaign urging residents to reduce their water use and state agencies to implement a water reduction plan.

Meanwhile, he has told the DWR to draft an updated report on drought conditions and water availability by March 30.

If the situation has not eased, he warned mandatory water rationing and water use cuts could be imposed. The drought conditions and water restrictions are taking their toll on the state economy, with fears total losses could reach $3 billion in 2009.

David Gibbs

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