The Department of Water Resources on Wednesday unveiled a key part of its drought plan for 2022. For the first time on record, DWR has set the initial allocation for the State Water Project at zero.

“Despite a wet start to the water year, conditions have dried out since that first storm,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “That means we need to prepare now for a dry winter and severe drought conditions to continue through 2022.”

DWR will continue to use water storage in Lake Oroville, the largest SWP reservoir, to control salinity in the Delta. The department plans to deliver modest allocations to seven of the 29 water contractors to meet basic health and safety needs. Nemeth expected local water agencies to issue mandatory cutbacks in water use in late winter or early spring, though the state will step in if needed.

Environmental groups keyed in on a clause in the announcement that some of the Oroville water will be used for senior water right needs. Kate Poole, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, argued that this is prioritizing water for agriculture over public trust needs.

State Water Contractors General Manager Jennifer Pierre was not surprised by the allocation, given the impact of the drought, exacerbated by climate change.

“The state has made clear that the severity of the drought and prioritization of water supplies for the environment have reduced California’s ability to provide water for municipal and industrial uses,” said Pierre.

She added that SWC’s public water agencies will continue to fund SWP operation and maintenance costs, since this remains vital in the “new normal” of reoccurring drought.

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The announcement came as the West entered December with record high temperatures sweeping well into British Columbia.

DWR will present the proposed allocation plan to the state water board for approval on Tuesday. The plan is in coordination with Central Valley Project reservoirs to balance supplies statewide.

In a separate action this week, DWR recommended a permanent drop in residential water use. The department issued a report to the Legislature recommending water suppliers trim indoor water use down to 42 gallons per capita per day by 2030. That would phase down water use by nearly a quarter for residential users, starting with a 55-gallon limit in 2023. 

DWR stressed that this would not prohibit people from taking showers and doing laundry on the same day. The standard, if approved by lawmakers, would serve as a guide for water suppliers and not apply to individual customers.