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Drought goes from very bad to simply bad

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POSTED May 23, 2015 1:29 a.m.

Things have gone from very bad to bad on the Stanislaus River watershed that’s critical for South County farms and cities,

South San Joaquin Irrigation District — thanks to two spring storms in the Sierra — is projected to receive 147,000 acre feet from this year’s snow and rainfall that is needed to allow it to meet reduced water deliveries to both irrigation and city customers through Sept. 30.

At the same time divers have confirmed what video cameras indicated — the submerged Old Melones Reservoir’s gates are unclogged and still functional.

“That means there won’t be 80,000 acre feet of dead water storage at New Melones Reservoir,” SSJID General Manger Jeff Shields said. “That means New Melones can be completely drained if needed. . .  It’s bad news but its good news too. It’s pretty bad, I guess, when your good news is that you will barely be able to get by (if everyone conserves) and you can empty a reservoir.”

New Melones started May with 489,995 acre feet of water in a reservoir designed to hold 2.4 million acre feet of water. As of Wednesday, it was down to 463,464 acre feet. If it hadn’t been for the storms, the reservoir could have dropped to 440,000 acre feet by now. The spring storms dropped a fair amount of snow in the watershed although only traces of rain fell in the Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop areas.

Shields said the mild weather has also helped SSJID’s outlook.

“There were a number of farmers who passed on taking water during recent irrigation runs as they should because of the mild weather,” Shields said.

By doing so, they enhanced the changes of adequate water being available in the blistering months of June, July, August, and September to make sure their crops can be harvested.

“It has gotten better but we’re far from being out of trouble,” Shields said. “People have to conserve.”

Shields said there is hope an El Nino pattern— that can deliver a wetter than usual winter — will emerge in the fall. But even if it does, he cautioned it is no guarantee that it will deliver even a normal water year.

California is now in its fourth year of severe drought.

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