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SSJID water outlook is improving

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POSTED April 19, 2014 12:18 a.m.

You can go jump into the lake today.

A series of breaks in the timing of rainfall and Mother Nature favoring the Central Sierra over the rest of the state when it came to late snowfall allowed the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to raise the level of Woodward Reservoir for recreational uses 11 days ahead of schedule.

The SSJID board originally planned to only raise the level at Woodward between May 1 and July 7 in a bid to conserve water. The lower level for the past month as well as after July 7 was projected to save at least 7,000 acre feet by reducing losses to evaporation and seepage.

A somewhat less bleak March-April rain and snow pattern didn’t break the drought that is now in its third year. It did, however improve the water outlook for SSJID.

That means the SSJID board on Tuesday will consider:

•  Keeping the Woodward Reservoir water level higher after July 7 to accommodate recreational uses.

•  Restoring full allotments to Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy on the condition the cities cutback on their ground water pumping as much as possible. Such a move would help combat saltwater intrusion into aquifers as well as help ease the strain on groundwater.

“Our water situation is much better,” SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said Friday.

Shields, though was quick to emphasize that while it is better the district is not out of the woods. There is still a need to conserve to make sure the district can maintain its 77,500 acre feet in a water conservation account at New Melones Reservoir to carry over into 2015.

“Right now we are hoping we won’t have to touch it,” Shields said of the conservation account.

Earlier this year when the region went without rain for than 50 days and winter snowfall in the Sierra was a rare occurrence, the district was faced with having to deplete the conservation account while pushing for reduced water use to get through this year.

Shields credited two perfectly timed rain storms in the Sierra in March that saturated the ground meaning subsequent rain and snow runoff would flow into reservoirs. At the same time, though, rain didn’t help as much in the Central Valley as well as in Bay Area valleys where — despite fairly moderate late season rainfall — most soil is dry after digging down five or so inches. The timing of rain in the South County meant almost all growers passed on an irrigation run saving the district upwards of 10,000 acre feet of water.

Before the storms, the SSJID was considered among one of the best situated water districts in the state thanks to superior adjudicated water rights, a 106-year commitment to developing and protecting their water rights, and aggressive state-of-the-art water conservation effort for farmlands.

The recent storms enhanced the SSJID’s position even more given the fact Mother Nature favored the Central Sierra.

The snowpack in the central Sierra that supplies the Merced, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Mokelumne, and Calaveras rivers is now at 40 percent of normal.

The southern Sierra that feeds Friant Dam, the headwaters of the San Joaquin River and other tributaries such as the Fresno River has a snowpack that is at 31 percent of normal.

The northern Sierra that fills Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville — the state’s two largest reservoirs — as well as other reservoirs and provides the lion’s share of California’s water is at 25 percent of normal.

Snowfall this late in the season, if it occurs, would not be big enough to further reduce the impacts of the drought.

Sierra snowpack is critical as it accounts for 60 percent of all surface water used by urban and farming concerns in California. At the same time reservoirs fed with Sierra runoff are critical for maintaining fish as well as riparian and Delta ecological systems in the summer and fall.

The SSJID board meets Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the district office, 11001 East Highway 120, Manteca.

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