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State to deliver more water to Southern California

Allocations to water agencies will be increased by 5% thanks to storms in late February and March. But officials caution that deliveries will still be far less than normal.

March 19, 2009|Bettina Boxall

State officials announced Wednesday they will deliver more water to Southern California this year than previously predicted but cautioned that shipments will remain well below normal.

State water resources director Lester Snow said "a series of very beneficial storms in February and early March" prompted his department to increase allocations to water agencies by 5%.

Snow's characterization of the state's water supply was not as bleak as earlier in the winter, but he said water managers remained "very concerned."

"We still consider we are in a drought and need to take special actions," Snow said.

With the winter storms, statewide snowpack has grown to 86% of average for this date. Reservoir storage is 75% of the norm and statewide precipitation levels are nearly normal.

Lake Oroville, the state system's biggest reservoir, contains more water than it did at this time last year. But San Luis, another important reservoir that holds water for both the state and federal systems, contains only about half what it usually does at this point.

Allocation levels will be reviewed next month and in May, but Snow said he did not anticipate an increase.

Projected deliveries from the State Water Project, which provides about a third of urban Southern California's water, have risen to 20% of full allocation, from 15%.

Agencies seldom get their full contractual allotments. Typical deliveries are closer to 70% of allocations. If they remain at 20%, water shipments would be among the lowest on record for the four-decade-old state project.

Los Angeles water and power commissioners cited the delivery figures Tuesday when they approved rate increases to promote a 15% drop in city water use.

The price increases, which will go into effect June 1 unless blocked by the City Council, will raise second-tier rates by 44%.

The second tier kicks in when a customer exceeds a base level of water use, which is set according to typical consumption for residents who live in the same climate zone and have a similar lot size.

Residents whose water use is already well within that base category should not be hit by the price hikes.

City commissioners also have approved restrictions on outdoor watering, which represents about 40% of single-family home consumption in Los Angeles.

Those curbs, which would limit sprinkling to two days a week, are awaiting City Council action.

Water managers and politicians advocating new reservoirs and infrastructure have described the state's water situation in dire terms.

"It's not just an issue of measuring the snowpack or forecasting runoff," Snow said.

He said supply is strained by population growth, curbs on pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect the threatened delta smelt, and a shift to permanent agricultural crops that can't be fallowed easily.

Pumping limits this year have cost the state system enough water to supply more than 300,000 homes, Snow said.

The restrictions, triggered by factors such as the smelt's proximity to the pumps and spawning conditions during winter and spring months, have not been as severe as in some previous years.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said no smelt-related flow limits were in place until March 3.

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bettina.boxall@latimes.com

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