California to Release More Water to Communities in Wake of Storms
California to Release More Water to Communities in Wake of Storms

By Brad Jones

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced Jan. 26 it expects to deliver 30 percent of requested water to its public water agencies in 2023—1.27 million acre-feet—up from the initial 5 percent announced in December.

This comes after weeks of heavy rainstorms and public outcry demanding the state release more water from its reservoirs.

During the storms, California Gov. Gavin Newsom faced criticism from bipartisan legislators and California residents over trillions of gallons of rainwater that flowed out to the ocean instead of being stored in reservoirs after three years of extreme drought.

In a statement Thursday, Newsom called the increase in expected water deliveries “good news for communities and farms” in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California.

“We’ll keep pushing to modernize our water infrastructure to take advantage of these winter storms and prepare communities for the climate-driven extremes of wet and dry ahead,” he said.

The State Water Project’s two largest reservoirs—Oroville and San Luis—have gained a combined 1.62 million acre-feet of water in storage—enough water to supply approximately 5.6 million households for a year, according to the DWR.

Three weeks of heavy precipitation in January from nine “atmospheric rivers” have helped to fill reservoirs and dramatically increase the Sierra Nevada snowpack, according to DWR Director Karla Nemeth.

“We are about 218 percent of average snowpack,” she said at a press conference Thursday.

She said the department will rely on aerial observation flights and new technology to accurately measure the amount of water expected to come from snow in the mountains.

While the weather forecast is still trending wet, Nemeth warned about drier times to come.

“I think as we can all attest here in California, things have turned dry again, and we want to be cautious as we continue to move through what is traditionally our wet season in California—the remaining winter months and spring months,” she said.

In response to questions from the media about why only 30 percent of the requested water allocations are being met, Nemeth urged caution, pointing to Newsom’s appeal to Californians to conserve water.

“The governor has called for 15 percent voluntary conservation but had directed the local water districts to adopt their mandatory restrictions as was fitting to their own local water supply circumstances. So that will stay in place until we get a better picture of whether or not this year turns out to be a very wet year or simply an average year,” she said.

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