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Drought: Death knell for recreation at Woodward?

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POSTED January 24, 2015 12:18 a.m.

The odds for a normal year of snow and rain are rapidly evaporating.

California is settling in for a fourth year of severe drought.

It means Woodward Reservoir in the coming months could be closed to all surface water recreation in order to save 35,000 acre feet that would evaporate or be lost to seepage if the reservoir is operated at capacity. That is enough to cover a quarter of the 12 irrigation runs that occur during the growing season.

“It’s one of the tools that are on the table,” noted South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields. “This is shaping up to be the worst year yet (due to low levels of storage) but as I’ve said before we are still better situated than most of the rest of California. We intend to deliver water to growers and cities but it is going to be very, very tight. Everyone is going have to watch how they use water and be serious about conserving.” 

How dire things are is reflected in the fact two ski resorts have already been forced to close — Dodge Ridge and Badger Pass — due to the lack of snow. The snowpack is less than 40 percent of normal for this time of year. California relies on the Sierra snowpack for 60 percent of its urban and farm water needs.

Only 0.02 inches of rain has fallen in Manteca in January. That’s 1.89 inches below average. January is usually one of the three wettest months. The current outlook has a chance for light showers on one day before month’s end. Forecasters have reduced their prediction made two weeks ago from February for rain over 12 days to perhaps 6 days at most with that just being light showers. A high pressure ridge is blocking storms from the Pacific Ocean.

SSJID cloud seeds the Donnells Reservoir basin to increase precipitation, but that can be hit and miss. First, there needs to be heavy clouds and the cloud seeding needs to be timed right.

New Melones as of Thursday had 556,000 acre feet of water. In 2014 at this time there was 1.047 million acre feet of water in storage, in 2013 some 1.624 million acre feet and in 2012 there was 1.975 million acre feet. The reservoir is designed to hold 2.42 million acre feet

The reservoir has been drawn down to cushion the impacts of three years of drought. Now, if weather patterns hold, the cushion will no longer be there.

That’s because it takes a million acre feet of water to operate the Stanislaus River in terms of fish flows and such.

After the SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District get the first 600,000 acre feet of inflow as determined under an agreement signed with the Bureau in exchange for the federal government inundating the original Melones Dam, that leaves just 238,000 acre feet of water for operating the river under current projections

It is why the Bureau of Reclamation is again looking to try and commandeer water essential for SSJID farmers and urban users in Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy in order to “operate” the Stanislaus River through Sept.30.

SSJID has already started what is turning into an annual exercise in the current drought to stridently remind the Bureau and others that the district’s superior adjudicated water rights it shares with OID was just recently upheld once again by the federal courts.

Shields said if the SSJID is forced to it will litigate the matter.

One of the tools that SSJID has to help weather a fourth year of drought would be to re-impose cutbacks on urban water delivers to Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon.

The district doesn’t want to waste water as it may be one of the few agencies in a position to help others in the state.

Water is in such a high demand now that it is commanding $1,200 acre feet. Typically water runs between $300 and $400 an acre foot.


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