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How low will it go?

New Melones heading toward record low

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How low will it go?

New Melones on Sunday was at 25 percent of capacity.

DENNIS WYATT/The Bulletin


POSTED August 12, 2014 1:23 a.m.

New Melones had 597,280 acre feet of water on Sunday.

The average storage for that date — Aug. 10 — is 1,441,269 acre feet.

And if projections go as the Bureau of Reclamation hopes in the best case scenario of water loss and use over the next two months the reservoir will reach a historic low of 339,000 acre feet on Sept. 30. That means only 14 percent of the 2.4 million acre reservoir will be filled. The current water level is at 25 percent of capacity compared to the historical average for Aug, 10 of 41 percent.

And it will go even lower since no measureable rain is expected during a normal weather year until late November. Snow runoff of any degree doesn’t happen until late winter under normal conditions. Plus New Melones is obligated to make releases this fall for fish in the lower Stanislaus River

It is against that grime backdrop that the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board is meeting today at 9 a.m. in the district office to reaffirm the action of the board’s water committee.

Those actions include:

• Notifying growers the irrigation season will end Sept. 30, more than two weeks earlier than normal.

• Woodward Reservoir will be closed to all bodily contact on Monday, Sept. 8, and the lower part of the reservoir lowed to 200 feet.

• Water to Manteca, Tracy, and Lathrop will be slashed back to 20 percent of what each city used in August and September of 2013.

That’s the good news.

If next year is a fourth dry year, the SSJID will not be able to take its full allocation from the Stanislaus River watershed. That would force the board to make even further delivery cuts than they are right now to urban users and farmers. However, normal rainfall — coupled with the district’s conservation account at New Melones and storage it shares with Oakdale Irrigation District at Donnells and Beardsley reservoirs — could make it possible for SSJID to squeeze by in 2015 without additional cutbacks.

The projection right now is for New Melones with a repeat of the current weather year to have 70,000 acre feet of storage on July 1, 2015. That would be an astonishing 3 percent of normal setting the stage for New Melones for all practical purposes to be virtually bone dry on Sept. 30, 2015.

Such a scenario would undoubtedly force urban users and farmers alike to step up underground water use and drill new wells.

Experts already expect the water table by Sept. 30 to drop a full 10 feet in much of San Joaquin County.  Increased pumping would accelerate the further decline of underground water sources.

The SSJID has already started its own pumps to help supplement available irrigation water for farmers.

Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a state of emergency in California due to the third consecutive severe drought year and ordered urban water use reduced by 20 percent.

Tracy in August reduced their year to year water use by 25 percent compared to 10.4 percent in Manteca. Ripon in July — the last month data was available —dropped their water use by 8 percent.

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