Salt River Project's (SRP) Board of Governors has voted to continue reduced deliveries for water consumers in SRP's 248,000-acre water service territory for calendar year 2005, the first time in SRP's history that the allocation has been reduced three years running.
The 2005 water allocation for agricultural, urban irrigation and municipal purposes will continue at the 2.0 acre-foot-per-acre level, one-third less than the normal delivery allocation of 3.0 acre-feet. The 2.0 acre-foot allocation was the same allotment that was in effect for calendar years 2003 and 2004, the first full years that a reduced allocation has been in effect since 1951.
The 2005 allocation, says John Sullivan, associate general manager of SRP's Water Group, will result in the necessary reduction in water demand to allow SRP and Arizona to manage their way through a severe drought that has reached nine years.
"The last nine years combined are approaching the severity of the drought of record, which occurred from 1898 to 1904, and the duration of the current drought is two years longer," says Sullivan. "All-time low spring runoff has occurred twice in the last nine years, and continued drought conditions of the last several years are showing no signs of abating."
Sullivan says that despite the increase in groundwater pumping since 1998 and the importing of significant quantities of Colorado River water to extend SRP reservoir supplies, storage levels have failed to rise to adequate levels to protect against sustained severe drought.
By the end of 2004, Sullivan says SRP will have imported more than 600,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water via the Central Arizona Project since 1996 without a substantial rebound in storage levels. Following a winter runoff total of 275,000 acre-feet into the Salt and Verde rivers from January through May 2004, well below the 92-year average of 825,600 acre-feet, the storage level in SRP's reservoir system is currently at 40% --- the same as a year ago.
Sullivan says that if conditions should dramatically improve this coming winter, the full 3.0 acre-feet allocation could be reinstated for the remaining portion of 2005. The last time the SRP Board rescinded a reduction in the water allocation was in March 1991 following heavy rains that filled the reservoir system.