Californians were recently warned that water levels in the San Luis Reservoir were dangerously low and that water deliveries from the project would likely be shut down as early as this weekend.
The San Luis Reservoir supplies water to the Santa Clara Valley, San Benito County as well as farmers in the Central Valley. As of July 22nd, the reservoir stood at 11% of total capacity (226k AF) which puts storage well below the levels recorded during the driest season recorded in 1976-1977. This news comes in spite of a robust rainy season in California with YTD precipitation roughly 16% higher than the long-term average and over 200% higher than the driest 1976-1977 season.
So, why are California’s reservoirs drying up in spite of a solid rainy season? The answer lies in the environmental regulations implemented to protect the Delta Smelt, a 5-7cm fish and endangered resident of the California Delta. Regulations designed to protect the non-native species have prevented pumping of water from the California Delta in Northern California leaving many reservoirs in Southern California empty. So rather than take advantage of a solid rainy season the State of California has opted to squander the opportunity to refill its water infrastructure and pump the water through the San Francisco bay and into the Pacific Ocean instead.
As background, the majority of California’s precipitation falls in the northern part of the state. Historically, that precipitation flowed through various rivers and accumulated in the California Delta between Sacramento and San Francisco. The water was then pumped from the California Delta into various state and federal water projects to supply water to farmers, residential and commercial interests in the southern part of the state. In recent years, however, pumping from the Delta has been limited or outright restricted in favor of protecting various environmental concerns, including the Delta Smelt population. When not pumped into the canal systems, the water that accumulates in the Delta is simply flushed into the Pacific Ocean. In fact, nearly 50% of California’s annual fresh water supply is flushed into the Pacific Ocean each year despite “severe drought” conditions.
Ironically, California Governor Jerry Brown recently advocated for, and ultimately passed, a bill allocating $2.7BN of new funding for new water storage projects. We’re sure, however, that those funds will be used in a responsible manner and not to simply hire union labor to build new reservoirs that are never filled due to endless pandering to the state’s environmental special interest groups.