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Facing Drought, State Water Project Halting Deliveries for 2014

The planned 'zero percent' allocation brings more bad news for Santa Barbara County

It has been expected that the State Water Project would not be making any water deliveries for 2014, but the official announcement last week still represents more bad news for Santa Barbara County.

On Friday, the California Department of Water Resources said there would be a "zero percent allocation" for 2014 for the 29 agencies that use State Water .

The Central Coast Water Authority thought that would happen, so it warned water districts and cities in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, executive director Ray Stokes said.

In December, the state thought there would be a 5 percent allocation, or about 2,275 acre feet.

It may not seem like much, but the loss further exacerbates the problem.

“It’s a tough, tough year,” Stokes said. “This is an unprecedented situation; never in the history of the State Water Project in 54 years have we had a zero percent allocation.”

Agricultural districts in the Sacramento Valley could have a 50 percent cut to water rights as well, according to the Department of Water Resources.

The state’s also concerned with keeping saltwater out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is used to distribute water all over California. 

“It would need to rain and snow heavily every other day from now until May to get us back to average annual rain and snowfall,” the Department of Water Resources said in a release.

Even then, California would still be in a drought due to the two previous dry years and the dry winter so far.

The statewide snowpack is at 12 percent of the average for this time of year, and reservoir levels are lower than 1977, one of the two previous driest years on record.

Many Central Coast agencies have water banked in the San Luis Reservoir, which is at 30 percent of its capacity.

Local reservoirs are also low, with Lake Cachuma at 39 percent and Jameson Reservoir at 27.1 percent. Gibraltar, one of the city of Santa Barbara’s sources, is at 5.7 percent.

Due to the Zaca Fire, water from Gibraltar is more expensive to treat and the city hasn’t been using it. It will start using about one million gallons per day starting this week, according to city staff.

San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties have a contract for 45,486 acre-feet of State Water annually, and the actual water deliveries are determined by the available supply.

The zero-percent allocation news was an especially hard blow to Montecito and Solvang, which are struggling to find water to meet demand, Stokes said.

There is some carryover water from last year being delivered to Santa Barbara County, with about 13,500 acre-feet banked in the San Luis Reservoir, Stokes said.

Most of that is for South Coast water agencies, and about 94 acre-feet of water are for North County agencies.

To find more water for sale, the CCWA board is scheduled to discuss hiring a water broker at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Finding water to help agencies meet demand is the biggest issue right now, Stoker said. Brokers might have contacts to strike deals with people or agencies that the CCWA doesn’t have relationships with.

Many cities and individual water agencies are doing the same, desperate to find more water for sale. Santa Barbara learned that water is cheaper north of the Delta, but riskier to get south, and about twice as expensive from the Central Valley, at about $1,200 per acre foot.

Those prices would seem extreme in normal circumstances, but look enticing during a drought, according to Joshua Haggmark, Santa Barbara's interim water resources manager.

Santa Barbara and other South Coast agencies only signed up for the State Water Project after the last drought in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so it’s a real test for the system. It will be hard to convince residents to invest more if the system can’t deliver water during times of drought, Haggmark noted.

The system’s pipelines are a benefit regardless of the deliveries though, Stokes noted.

Once the county buys water, it can use the SWP plumbing system to distribute it to the different cities and water districts, he said. During the last big drought, Santa Barbara County would buy water from as close as Ventura and have to “finagle” ways to get it transported to the right places, he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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