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After the driest three-year period on record for California, statewide water supply conditions are among the most challenging in decades. While rainstorms in late 2014 provided a great start to winter, the snowpack water content in the Sierra Nevada is below its historical average for late December. Drought recovery is expected to be slow because of extreme precipitation deficits in recent years coupled with low stored water reserves.
The rain did provide the San Diego region and most parts of California with a great opportunity to reduce demand by turning off irrigation systems for weeks at a time. Storms also offered a reminder to take advantage of rebate offers for rain barrels and weather-based irrigation controllers that make the most of every drop nature provides. More information about conservation tips and rebates is at WaterSmartSD.org.
Forecasts for California predict above-average precipitation for winter 2014-2015. However, the initial 2015 allocation from the State Water Project – an important water source for the San Diego region – was set at only 10 percent of requested supplies. The figure may fluctuate up or down depending on precipitation over the winter.
A minimal Sierra Nevada snowpack in 2013-2014 meant that water deliveries from Northern California were historically low; the State Water Project delivered only 5 percent of requested supplies in 2014. To complicate matters, extreme heat throughout 2014 along with an improving economy and other factors increased demand for water.
As a wholesale water agency, the Water Authority coordinates drought response actions for San Diego County. The regional Model Drought Response Ordinance, adopted by the Water Authority’s Board in 2008, establishes four levels of drought response with progressive restrictions. The strategy was designed to foster regional consistency and to align demand with supply during water shortages while minimizing harm to the region’s economy.
In July, the Water Authority’s Board declared a Drought Alert condition calling for mandatory water conservation measures. All Water Authority member agencies have enacted mandatory water-use restrictions, though rules vary. For information about water-use rules by community, go to www.sdcwa.org/drought-restrictions.
The San Diego region’s largest water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, estimated it would withdraw approximately 1.1 million acre-feet of water from storage to meet demand in its service area during 2014, reducing its reserves by about half. MWD likely will impose allocations in early 2015 if conditions don’t improve significantly this winter. However, two decades of investments by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies will help reduce the impacts of any reductions in imported water supplies. Those enhancements to water supply reliability include independent Colorado River water transfers and the Carlsbad Desalination Project, which is expected to start producing water as soon as fall 2015.
Water Supply Conditions and Drought Presentations