Today, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that its initial allocation for State Water Project contractors would be 5 percent in 2010, unless there is more rainfall in the coming months. The initial forecast is intended to be very conservative, and is likely to increase. Last year's initial allocation was 15 percent, and the year ended with a 40 percent allocation.
By and large, as DWR acknowledges, these low allocations are caused by the past three years of drought, which has resulted in low rainfall, low runoff and thus low storage in the State's reservoirs. If this year turns out to be a normal year (average amount of rainfall and runoff in terms of hydrology), the director of DWR estimated that the final allocation this year may be in the range of 20-40 percent. That'd be a lot better than 5 percent.
Today's announcement is a stark reminder that California's drought isn't over - and could get much, much worse. As Peter Gleick has reminded people, Australia is in the midst of a decade long year drought, which has been far, far worse than what California has experienced thus far. The drought in Australia destroyed that country's rice industry; in contrast, despite the drought, California was expected to have the second highest rice crop on record in 2009. And water use per capita in Australia is a small fraction of use in California, as Peter Gleick has pointed out, demonstrating that we still can make a lot of water available for cities and farms through improved water use efficiency and conservation.
So today's announcement is also a reminder that we all need to use water wisely this year, and conserve as much as we can. Whether you're harvesting gray water, planting drought tolerant landscapes, installing drip irrigation, installing low flow toilets, turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, or taking shorter showers, everyone can contribute to conserving water this year. All of these steps are part of the "Virtual River" of water supply solutions that NRDC has promoted. Taking simple steps to conserve water such as these will help us meet the State's recently enacted law on water conservation and efficiency, and should help us prepare for future droughts. Because while we all hope this year won't be another dry year, we have to be prepared for the drought to continue.