Bay Area News Group
State and federal agencies on Wednesday officially unveiled a joint plan detailing how they will tackle the ongoing drought that has raised difficult questions about how California farmers, residents and wildlife share the dwindling supply of water.
The plan, which various agencies have been hammering out since December, does not call for changes in agreed-upon reduced water allocations to farms and municipalities and does not address the contested emergency drought barriers meant to keep brackish bay water from contaminating drinking supplies.
Two-thirds of California is in extreme drought, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown in January to issue a proclamation urging residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce water usage.
On Wednesday, officials hailed the newly named the 2014 Drought Operations Plan as an important milestone that creates a single response plan for managing the drought during the next seven months.
"We've been working together to eke out regulatory flexibility as quickly as possible and adapt quickly to weather and environmental conditions to bolster water supplies to the extent possible ... even as we know that many users and wildlife will suffer hardship this year," said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources.
The State Water Project will continue to withhold water from agricultural water service contractors, a first in more than 50 years since it was created. Most people who get their water from the Central Valley Water project will also not get their allocations.
Federal wildlife refuges and senior water rights holders along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers will continue to receive 40 percent of their contract totals and water rights holders along the Feather River will get 50 percent of water promised them, the least amount permissible under the terms of their contract with the state.
Meanwhile, late season storms have made it less likely the state will erect rock barriers across three Delta waterways to repel salinity intrusion that could degrade drinking water supplies for 25 million Californians, according to Cowin.
The state has considered the $25 million in dams an emergency measure to prevent having to make large releases of reservoir water to repulse seawater intruding deep into the Delta because of low river flows.
While the state hasn't abandoned the barrier plan, Cowin said, "It would appear to be less of a likelihood than we would have thought a couple months ago."
State officials expect to finalize water allocations later this month.