Federal water managers on Monday warned California cities and industrial users receiving water from the Central Valley Project to prepare for a fourth year of drought and possibly “extremely limited water supply” during 2023.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Interior Department that oversees water resource management, said drought conditions in California have persisted despite early storms this month, and warned of looming water conservation actions.
“If drought conditions extend into 2023, Reclamation will find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to meet all the competing needs of the Central Valley Project without beginning the implementation of additional and more severe water conservation actions,” the agency said in a statement.
The agency said water storage is near historic lows in the reservoirs it oversees in the state, which irrigate more than 3 million acres of land in central California and supply major urban centers in the Greater Sacramento and San Francisco Bay areas. The project’s water provides supplies for approximately 2.5 million people per year.
The Shasta Reservoir, California’s largest reservoir located about 200 miles north of the Bay Area, is currently at 31% capacity, the agency said. The megadrought in the U.S. West has generated the driest two decades in the region in at least 1,200 years and and conditions are likely to persist for years. Researchers have estimated that 42% of the drought’s severity is attributable to human-caused climate change.
Cattle graze amid drought conditions on June 21, 2022 near Ojai, California. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Ventura County is currently under extreme drought conditions. California is now in a third consecutive year of drought amid a climate-change fueled megadrought in the Southwestern United States.
California gets most its water during the winter months when storms bring snow to the mountain ranges. But record temperatures and low precipitation have forced California and other states to address a future with dwindling water supplies.
The Reclamation Bureau said it will announce initial water supply allocations for the Central Valley Project in February. A sign is posted next to an empty field on May 27, 2021 in Chowchilla, California. Earlier this year, California water officials slashed State Water Project allocations from 15% to 5% of normal for water agencies serving roughly 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland.