youtubetwitter facebook

Delta Watch

Water Watch

California’s water supply crisis

The bleak 2014 Water Year ended on September 30. It was California's third driest in 119 years of records, based on statewide precipitation. Overlapping with California’s driest calendar year on record, in 2013, the state’s water system has been stretched to its breaking point. Reservoir levels are at historic lows and with California’s varying and unpredictable weather patterns, these extreme dry conditions could be a sign of things to come, rather than an anomaly.

The Department of Water Resources released its inital allocation for the State Water Project (SWP) contractors, estimating that the SWP will receive 10 percent of their requested water in 2015. This dismal projection is still an improvement from the 5 percent  allocation SWP contractors received in 2014. Central Valley Project (CVP) farmers were even worse off, with a ZERO percent allocation. This will left the 25 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland dependent on the projects struggling to cope with already tapped local resources.  

Restrictions intended to protect native fish in the Delta, known as Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives or RPAs, have had significant effects on water exports over the past four years, under both wet and dry hydrological conditions. This is the case despite the fact that a federal court has held the RPAs are unlawful. The charts below shows the water losses in the Delta and the allocations for the Central Valley Project south of the Delta (CVP) and State Water Project contractors (SWP):


Water Year Classification

Water lost due to Biological Opinions

CVP Allocation

SWP Allocation









800,000 acre-feet








Below Normal

620,000 acre-feet





300,000 acre-feet




Below Normal

1,043,000 acre-feet





Without a more sensible suite of actions to protect smelt and salmonids and/or an updated water delivery system, as is currently being proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process, Californians are likely to face even stricter water curtailments in the future, which are made worse by restrictions imposed to protect fish species. MORE INFORMATION


On April 1, the California Cooperative Snow Survey found the Sierra snowpack to be at only 32 percent of average to date. The April survey, taken at a time when the snowpack is normally at its peak, was the third lowest reading on record.


California’s major reservoirs are sitting well below historical average, as water users have been forced to depend on stored water for supplies after an exceptionally dry winter. In an extreme case, Folsom Lake was at only 17 percent of capacity, as of February 2.  Dept. of Water Resources - Current Reservoir Conditions

(Photo: Folsom Lake by DWR) Folsom Lake at only 17 percent of capacity.


DWR Water Year Information

Delta Watch: Seeing Red
From the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta

Delta Watch: Opportunities Wasted
From the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta

Drought: Water now top worry for Californians
Article from the San Francisco Chronicle (July 24, 2014)

California drought will only get worse, experts say
Article from the Los Angeles Times (July 18, 2014)

UC Davis study finds drought will cost California billions
Article from the Sacramento Bee (July 15, 2014)

Study: California drought to cost Central Valley $1.7 billion, won't threaten state overall
Article from the Associated Press (May 19, 2014)

California water plan unveils hardships to come as drought persists
Article from the Sacramento Bee (April 10, 2014)

The Thirsty West: Where’s the Snow?
Article from Slate Magazine (April 9, 2014)

California Drought Update: How Low Can the Reservoirs Go?
Article from KQED (March 24, 2014)


The excess water available during 2011 provided an incredible opportunity for recharging groundwater storage throughout the state. Kern County alone recharged over a half million acre-feet of water into its aquifers to help mitigate future droughts. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was been able to replenish its reserves by storing 749,000 acre-feet of water in 2011, enough to supply almost 1.5 million households (6 million residents) for an entire year.

MORE INFORMATION: Delta Watch – Banking Water for the Future