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Amid drought, California agency won't allot water

  • In this Jan. 14, 2014 file photo, Hugh Beggs of Santa Rosa, searches for coins in the middle of the Russian River at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif. (PD FILE, 2014)

SACRAMENTO — Amid severe drought conditions, California officials announced Friday they won't send any water from the state's vast reservoir system to local agencies beginning this spring, an unprecedented move that affects drinking water supplies for 25 million people and irrigation for 1 million acres of farmland.

The announcement marks the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that such an action has been taken, but it does not mean that every farm field will turn to dust and every city tap will run dry.

The 29 agencies that draw from the state's water-delivery system have other sources, although those also have been hard-hit by the drought.

Sonoma County does not get water from the Project. The cities of Napa, St. Helena, and Calistoga, however, rely on the state project for part of their needs; they say they will rely on banked up water, unused from previous years, to bridge the shortage in 2014. American Canyon relies entirely on the state for water and doesn't have nearly enough banked up from previous years to meet its annual need; officials say they hope to be able to buy surplus water from other cities to make up for the shortfall if strict conservation alone cannot do so.

Many farmers in California's Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country, also draw water from a separate system of federally run reservoirs and canals, but that system also will deliver just a fraction of its normal water allotment this year.

The announcement affects water deliveries planned to begin this spring, and the allotment could increase if weather patterns change and send more storms into the state.

Nevertheless, Friday's announcement puts an exclamation point on California's water shortage, which has been building during three years of below-normal rain and snow.

"This is the most serious drought we've faced in modern times," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board. "We need to conserve what little we have to use later in the year, or even in future years."

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