In response to three consecutive years of drought that has reduced the state and federal water project reservoirs to historic lows, the State Water Resources Control Board readopted measures for the Delta last week.
The Board’s decision to update an emergency curtailment and reporting regulation authorizes staff to determine the amount of water available to certain right holders during the drought. The regulation also helps to limit the salty ocean water that enters the Delta and contaminates freshwater flows. The previous regulation would have expired in August.
“Climate change and extreme heat continue to place a tremendous strain on the Delta’s reservoir storage levels,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director for the Division of Water Rights. “Forecasts indicate most of the Delta watershed will remain in extreme or severe drought for the rest of the year. Today’s action is critical to preserving what we can and preparing for a challenging future.”
The 1,153 square-mile watershed not only provides two-thirds of Californians with drinking water, it also supports 80% of the state’s commercial salmon fisheries and is an important habitat for more than 750 animal and plant species, including waterfowl, birds of prey and threatened or endangered fish such as the Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and steelhead.
So far this summer, about 4,300 right holders and nearly 10,000 of 16,700 water rights in the Delta have been curtailed. Altogether, these curtailments are reducing diversions by 789,000 acre-feet in July alone, or enough water to sustain over two million three person households for a year.
The new regulation includes minor changes to clarify requirements, streamline administration and provide flexibility in the method used to determine water unavailability. The revisions also address the reduced allocation to Sacramento River Settlement and Feather River Contractors.
The regulation will take effect when approved by the Office of Administrative Law, which generally occurs within 10 working days. More information is available on the Delta drought website.