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Snow lingers but conserving water is ongoing concern

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POSTED July 31, 2017 1:23 a.m.

It looks like early June on the slopes of the 11,459-foot Sonora Peak — the farthest point eastern point on the Stanislaus River watershed that eventually sends water through Manteca and Lathrop faucets and to farms for irrigation via SSJID canals.

Liberal pockets of snow dot the high Sierra as spring flowers make a late debut in mid-summer. Last year, there was only a small pocket of snow at the end of July in the mountains surrounding Highway 108 as its crests Sonora Pass. Streams, creeks and rivers are still running cold and fast

That’s good news for farmers, city dwellers, and fish. It means there will be ample water to get through 2017.

But as South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Peter Rietkerk notes,  Californians — including those in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon — can ill-afford to fall back into their pre-drought water use patterns.

“We don’t know for sure whether next year will have ample snow and rain, whether it will be a dry year or if this year was just a blimp in a much longer mega-drought,” Rietkerk said.

While the expectations are for the Bureau of Reclamation to manage New Melones Reservoir this year so there is ample storage in the conservation carryover account shared by SSJID and Oakdale irrigation District, pending regulatory decisions such as the state commandeering 360,000 acre feet of water between February and June of year for fish flows from the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne rivers could significantly impact water supplies.

The SSJID board elected last week to make a water transfer to the South Delta Water Agency immediately west of the SSJID boundaries. Up to 200 acre feet of water will be sold to the agency that serves farmers in the San Joaquin County portion of the Delta. The water is being sold for $100 an acre foot. The SSJID has historically sold water to South Delta Water Agency when it is available in keeping with their commitment that available water resources should go to help others within San Joaquin County first.

Farmers in the SSJID during the drought reduced their water use by more than 20 percent while Manteca cutback water consumption by 28 percent.

“Using water wisely is something we should be doing all the time,” Rietkerk said. “The SSJID will continue to promote and practice water conservation.”

The state-mandate to not overdraft groundwater basins is adding another dimension to SSJID’s water conservation efforts and could actually redefine what is meant by “conservation” given the district’s status as a net groundwater recharger. Seepage from Woodward Reservoir, district canals that aren’t lined and even famers flood irrigating fields or orchards with SSJID water helps bolster the water table for others that rely on wells within the district boundaries.

Rietkerk noted the district is looking at how the need to keep groundwater recharged is impacted by water conservation practices.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email

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