An Introduction to State Water Project Deliveries

By Nicole Osorio

Most people in California receive some of their drinking water supply from the State Water Project (SWP). The SWP also supplies water to over 10% of California’s irrigated agriculture.  The SWP and its service area span much of California, delivering water to 29 wholesale contractors shown in Figure 1.

Each year, the Department of Water Resources announces SWP Table A allocations which inform water contractors’ SWP deliveries: “Table A”, “Carryover”, and “Article 21.”  What are these different SWP delivery categories and how do they work?

Fig 1

Figure 1: State Water Contractors (SWC) of California by Region (“Update on Delta Conveyance” 2019)

Table A, Carryover, and Article 21 are three types of SWP deliveries described in this post. Some additional, more minor, deliveries are made as: transfer and exchange Table A, and Pool Water deliveries.

The 2020 water year is dry, but the recent May storms led to the increased 2020 SWP Allocation from  15% to 20% of SWP contractors requested “Table A” delivery amounts. Figure 2 compares the initial and final SWP allocations from 1996-2020. Some lessons from this graph include:

  • 2006 was the last 100% allocation year, 14 years ago.
  • Final allocations usually increase significantly from the initial allocation estimate sent to SWP contractors (usually in October). However, final allocations (usually in May) could be less than initial allocation estimates in extreme dry years.
  • Drought years tend to have little or no increases from initial to final SWP allocations (such as 2007-2009 and 2012-2015).
  • It is likely that 2020’s final allocation will be 20%. The last 20% final allocation year was in 2015, one of the driest years on record.
fig2

Figure 2: Historical SWP Initial and Final Allocations (1996-2020) (CA DWR 2020b). May 2020 allocation seems likely to become the 2020 final.

Figure 3 shows Table A, Carryover, and Article 21 deliveries from 2000-2017. Minimum, average, and Maximum Table A and carryover statistics were combined because both are categorized under Table A water while Article 21 deliveries are made above the approved Table A amounts. 2014 had the least Table A and carryover deliveries at 475 TAF while 2003 contained the most at 3202 TAF.

fig 3

Figure 3: Historical SWP Deliveries (TAF) by category from 2000-2017 (Data from CA DWR 2009, 2012, and 2018).

What is Table A?

Table A allocations represent “a portion or all of the annual Table A amount requested by SWP water contractors and approved for delivery by DWR (CA DWR 2019).” DWR and the public water agencies and local water districts developed the SWP’s long-term water supply contracts in the 1960s. Table A contract amounts originated from these long-term contracts and have been amended. The 1994 Monterey Agreements significantly revised the long-term water supply contracts. Table 1 presents each contractor’s maximum Table A contract delivery amount, adding up to 4.17 million AF, anticipated to be the SWP’s ultimate delivery capability in the 1960s (an amount rarely actually available). As a wet year example, the last column indicates how much each water contractor utilized their Max Table A amount in 2006, a 100% allocation year. San Joaquin contractors were more likely to take their full Table A and supplement water supplies with Article 21 water, described later.

Table1

Table 1: Share of total Maximum Table A amount (4.17 MAF) between all 29 SWP Contractors at Calendar Year 2020 (CA DWR 2019) and % Utilization of Table A deliveries at 100% Allocation year in 2006 (CA DWR 2015). Largest Table A contract holders and highest 100%  allocation utilizers highlighted. 2006 total deliveries also include turnback pool water.

What is Carryover water?

Carryover water is a portion of Table A water that contractors may save for next year’s delivery. Carryover requests allow SWP contractors to store some of their annual allocation for the next year, and not lose undelivered allocation at the end of the SWP contract year, December 31. When contractors request carryover for next year’s delivery, that water is stored in the SWP’s share of San Luis reservoir in Merced County.

However, storing carryover water in San Luis reservoir has a low operating priority and so brings a risk. SWP contractors can lose this stored carryover water when San Luis Reservoir fills. In the 2017 wet year, some contractors (Santa Barbara County , Crestline Lake Arrowhead Water Agency and San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency) needed to transfer their carryover water from San Luis to another non-SWP facility to prevent losing their carryover storage. Figure 4 shows how San Luis filled in 2017 for the first time since 2011, following the 2012-2016 drought.

fig4

Figure 4: San Luis reservoir levels (TAF) from January 2000 to April 2020 with wettest and driest water year designations using the Sacramento Valley Index (CA DWR 2020a; c).

Overall, San Luis carryover water provides water contractors with a safety net in dry years, like 2020. During the 2012-2016 drought, contractors almost exclusively relied on only Table A and carryover. 2014 was the only year when carryover deliveries (383 TAF) exceeded those of Table A (92 TAF) (Figure 3). Carryover storage acts as a “savings bank account” which water agencies can draw on in dry conditions, but at some risk in very wet years.

What is Article 21 water?

Article 21 (described in water contracts) allows water contractors to take deliveries above approved and scheduled Table A amounts (CA DWR 2019). Article 21 is sometimes called interruptible, unscheduled, or surplus water.  It is offered predominantly in wet years (2005, 2006, 2011, and 2017) (Figure 5).

fig5

Figure 5: Historical Article 21 deliveries from 2000-2017 (Maven’s Notebook, 2018)

As an ephemeral surplus supply, contractors cannot “request” and schedule Article 21 deliveries in advance. DWR can only offer Article 21 deliveries when (CA DWR 2018, 2019; CA WATER COMMISSION: Article 21 water, explained):

  1. Article 21 deliveries do not interfere with SWP allocations.
  2. Excess water is available in the Delta.
  3. Conveyance is not being used for SWP purposes or scheduled SWP deliveries.
  4. Article 21 water may not become Carryover water, stored in SWP facilities.

The different types of SWP deliveries are akin to managing household finances. Table A deliveries are like a monthly paycheck for fixed recurring expenses. Carryover requests let you save part of your “Table A paycheck” for the future. Lastly, Article 21 deliveries are like an unusual annual bonus. You could splurge your “Article 21 water” bonus for direct retail delivery, or save it in an aquifer or reservoir outside the SWP.

In California’s highly variable climate, each water contractor must match these SWP water supplies, other local and regional water resources, and water demands for this year’s water use and in preparing for future droughts. In this dry 2020 year, SWP contractors are likely aware that the next drought could be just around the corner.

Nicole Osorio is a first year Master’s student of Water Resources Civil Engineering at the University of California, Davis.

Further Readings

CA DWR and State Water Contractors. (1994). The Monterey Agreement – Statement of Principles by the State Water Contractors and the State of California, Department of Water Resources for Potential Amendments to the State Water Supply Contracts. <http://www.mwdh2o.com/PDFUWMP/1994%20Monterey%20Agreement%20and%20Amendment.pdf > (May 04, 2020)

CA DWR. (1996). Bulletin 132-95: Management of the California State Water Project. Sacramento, CA. <https://water.ca.gov/LegacyFiles/swpao/docs/bulletins/bulletin132/Bulletin132-95.pdf&gt; (May 04, 2020)

CA DWR. (2009). DRAFT: The State Water Project Delivery Reliability Report 2009. Sacramento, CA.

CA DWR. (2015). The State Water Project Final Delivery Capability Report 2015. Sacramento, CA.

CA DWR. (2018). The Final State Water Project Delivery Capability Report 2017. Sacramento, CA.

CA DWR. (2019). Bulletin 132-17: Management of the California State Water Project. Sacramento, CA, 547.

CA DWR. (2020a). “California Data Exchange Center.” California Data Exchange Center, <https://cdec.water.ca.gov/&gt; (Apr. 27, 2020).

CA DWR. (2020b). “State Water Project Historical Table A Allocations: Years 1996-2020.” <https://water.ca.gov/-/media/DWR-Website/Web-Pages/Programs/State-Water-Project/Management/SWP-Water-Contractors/Files/SWP-Allocation-Progression-96-20-031920.pdf&gt; (Apr. 25, 2020).

CA DWR. (2020c). “Water Year Hydrologic Classification Indices.” Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center, <http://cdec.water.ca.gov/reportapp/javareports?name=WSIHIST&gt; (May 23, 2020).

Maven’s Notebook. (2018). “CA Water Commission: Article 21 water, explained.” MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK | Water news, <https://mavensnotebook.com/2018/04/05/ca-water-commission-article-21-water-explained/&gt; (Apr. 25, 2020).

Update on Delta Conveyance.” (2019). <http://mwdh2o.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=12&clip_id=7842&gt; (Nov. 14, 2019).

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About jaylund

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Director, Center for Watershed Sciences University of California - Davis
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5 Responses to An Introduction to State Water Project Deliveries

  1. Gail Sredanovic says:

    Mystified by the disproportionate amount going to Kern County. Can anyone explain this.

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    • Gail,

      I am not sure whether by “disproportionate” you mean why is Kern’s Table A so high or why they often get more than their Table A amount.

      The first answer is that is simply their share of the SWP. They’ve been paying the “mortgage” on the aqueduct and Oroville etc. since the 1960’s. Some changes were famously made in the 1995 Monterey agreement after a lawsuit which enabled them to develop the (groundwater) Kern Water Bank.

      For the second answer, Kern has substantial capacity to store groundwater so whenever there is extra, they have a place to put it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Burt Handy says:

    I believe it would strengthen the article to include how “turnback” water is used in the State Water Project..It is mentioned only once in the footnote of Table 1.

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  3. Will Anderson says:

    Great data-based summary! I’m still a little confused by the quantities in Table 1. Since the delivered quantities exceed Table A, this table would benefit from clarification between (theoretical) “Contract Table A Maximum” and (historical) “Maximum Delivered (Table A + Article 21 + Carryover).” Is this what’s going on? It’s also not clear what the percentages in the last column represent, since it doesn’t seem to relate to the other columns.

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  4. Phil Isenberg says:

    Ms. Osorio:

    Your article is the single best short explanation I have read on SWP water deliveries. Of course, nothing about California water is simple an understandable, but you sure come close. Thanks for a very good effort. Phil Isenberg

    Like

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