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20% water cut for Manteca, Lathrop

No early irrigation run as SSJID battles drought

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20% water cut for Manteca, Lathrop

San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos is typical of reservoirs up and down California as it is only at 31 percent capacity and 42 percent of what is normal for mid-January.

Photo contributed/

POSTED January 14, 2014 10:04 p.m.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District water deliveries to Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy may be reduced up to 20 percent in the coming months if current expectations for a severe third year of drought hold.

On Tuesday SSJID leaders urged the three cities to ramp up water production from urban wells now if they have that option to avoid making a bad situation even worse.

And if you’re a farmer and just signed up for water from the SSJID there’s a chance that you might end up getting a delivery this calendar year.

It’s been the driest year since only 6.2-inches of rain fall from the sky in all of 1976. And with precipitation levels 25 percent below even that over the previous 12 months, the SSJID board could end up having to tell those who signed up most recently that they’ll be the first to take a hit if shortages become drastic enough.

The board on Tuesday morning declined to institute a winter water run that would have replenished fallowing fields and given growers in Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy, Ripon and Escalon a boost in early crop production.

There’s just no guarantee, the directors argued, that an early run now won’t deplete resources when they’re most needed during the scorching Central Valley summer.

But that doesn’t mean that aren’t still plenty of options.

According to the report that SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields issued to the five board members, the strategy that the staff is pursuing is a “plan for the worst and hope for the best” approach that seems to be leaning heavy on the latter. Snow surveys are returning record low measurements and inflow into crucial reservoirs seems to be slowing.

Brighter days are ahead. And that’s the problem.

Three separate sets of weather data that Shields used in his report – including one from the Department of Water Resources and one from a meteorological doctoral candidate that has tremendously on-point over the years – show that even the precipitation that’s expected isn’t going to bring the quality, storm-like conditions that are needed to add to a quickly-thinning snowpack.

The district serves residents in the South County plus 72,000 acres of farmland is entitled to 300,000 acre-feet of water from New Melones. The SSJID won’t get that much if New Melones doesn’t see that quantity of water flowing into it between now and the heavy growing season.

So the district is putting everybody on high alert.

Water provided urban users that receive supplies from the water treatment plant project could be cut by upwards of 20 percent. Shields said that he encourages any city that can supplement its own water system by ramping up well production to do so immediately. An early start date for the irrigation season was called for, but will something weather dependent as well – whether growers will need those extra two weeks will be something that could change over the course of the next three months.

And then there’s always the nuclear option.

Based on the Tri-Dam project that the district built in the late 1950s, the opportunity still exists to control the flow of water out of places like Beardsley Reservoir – something that has never been done before and would create a huge red-tape nightmare scenario as multiple federal agencies that require that water for power generation at New Melones and for recreation in Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties.

“SSJID is certainly in relatively good shape,” Shields said. “We’re not well off and there are going to be some tough times ahead. We’ll get a better picture as we move ahead.”

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