SACRAMENTO, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- California water officials turned off the tap Friday, saying the winter drought forced them to cancel water deliveries to the entire state.
The Department of Water Resources said in Sacramento none of the water from the State Water Project earmarked for individual water agencies would be delivered as previously agreed to.
"The harsh weather leaves us little choice," DWR Director Mark Cowin said. "If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs."
The State Water Project is the infrastructure agency that parcels out the water that comes mainly from winter rains and snowfall to water agencies serving cities and agricultural areas. Because precipitation has been rare this winter, there is virtually no hope supplies for the dry summer will be adequate.
The lack of rain and snow comes on the heels of a string of dry years. The result has been key reservoirs in Northern and Central California dropping to less than 40-percent capacity. The vital snow pack in the Sierra was estimated recently at just 12 percent of normal.
"It is our duty to give State Water Project customers a realistic understanding of how much water they will receive from the Project," Cowin said. "Simply put, there's not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project."
The DWR said it was also in touch with the federal government to seek permission to reduce the amount of fresh water released into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to preserve fish and wildlife habitat.
It was the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that annual deliveries have been canceled, the DWR said in a written statement. The agency noted the 29 agencies that buy water from the project have local reservoirs and other sources of water available, including the Colorado River.
The San Diego County Water Authority, for example, said early this month its needs from the State Water Project in 2014 were fairly low thanks to the previous build-up of water stored in reservoirs.
Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in a written statement the district, which served 19 million people in the greater Los Angeles area, was asking residents to reduce their water usage by 20 percent this year and was doubling the agency's conservation budget to $40 million.
"The dry conditions facing California are unprecedented, and this region stands united with the governor [Jerry Brown] in supporting his call for a statewide approach to a statewide problem," Kightlinger said. "His message shows that California must be serious about addressing its short- and long-term water problems."