FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - Public agencies in California that contract with the state for water can expect more water than last year, but the drought remains dire for farmers who are barely hanging onto their crops.
The 29 public agencies that contract for water with California through the State Water Project can expect 15 percent of their requested deliveries - up from the 10 percent allocation predicted by the Department of Water Resources at the end of 2014.
Last year at the same time, the DWR reduced its initial allocation to contractors from 5 percent to zero - the first such allocation in the 54-year history of the State Water Project. Thanks to storms in February and March, managers were allowed to increase the allocation back to 5 percent.
Kern County Water Agency, which serves most of the agricultural customers of the project, is expecting 150,000 acre-feet of water from the state this year, up from the 50,000 acre-feet the agency received last year.
An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre 1 foot deep. It's roughly the amount an average family uses in a year.
"That's 100,000 acre-feet more than last year. But to put it into perspective, if you used all of it for delivery for farms, you're probably looking at enough water to irrigate 20,000 acres of farmland. We have probably have something on the order of 600,000 acres that receive some amount of State Water Project supplies," Curtis Creel, assistant manager of Kern County Water Agency, told Courthouse News.
"It's not a trivial amount of water. It's a big difference from last year from the standpoint of direct supplies. But as you can see, it's not nearly enough to meet the needs of the county," Creel said.
Not all of the water the agency receives goes to farmland. About 10 percent of it is for industry and municipal needs, Creel said.
No matter how much water is delivered, State Water Project contractors are required to pay for 100 percent of the amount of water included in their contracts.
"It is hard to ignore the fact that we are only receiving a portion of the water we are paying for," Kern County Water Agency Board of Directors President Ted Page said in a statement.
"Kern County's water reserves have been severely diminished due to dry conditions and regulatory restrictions imposed on water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to areas throughout California. We are hopeful the allocations will continue to improve during the remainder of the water year," Page said.
Under wetter conditions in past years, the 29 state contractors received more water from the project. In 2013, the final allocation was 35 percent of requested water amounts. In 2012, it was 65 percent, and in 2011, it was 80 percent, according to the Department of Water Resources.
"If we can get up to the neighborhood of an 80 percent allocation, generally we're in pretty good shape. That means that some of the districts would actually be able to put a little bit of water into the ground to store for another dry year," Creel said.
This year, however, farmers are still in "water crisis mode," which means they have to find ways to reduce demand or find additional supplies of water, Creel said.