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Rainless January likely

Low reservoirs + no rain = big problem

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Rainless January likely

The San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos was at 31 percent of capacity as of Monday.

Photo contributed/

POSTED January 22, 2014 1:17 a.m.

The unthinkable is nine days away from happening.

Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop are expected to end January without a measurable drop of moisture from the sky. The 10-day outlook is for a zero chance of rain.

It will make January 2014 the first winter month in the recorded history of San Joaquin County without any rain falling.

In Sacramento County where a number of residents have been warned water supplies from Folsom Lake are so perilously low that water districts may impose a mandatory prohibition against watering any outside landscaping there has been a record 42 consecutive days without rain.

Making matters worse for farmers are weather models that anticipate some reasonable rain will fall the last week of February and first week of March. That could create a precarious situation as that is when delicate blossoms on almond and cherry trees typically set.

But even the traditional bud setting time may have a monkey wrench tossed into it.

The historic dry weather is being accompanied by record highs with much of the Northern San Joaquin Valley basking in 70 degrees.

While it is clear California is in a third year of drought with unprecedented low reservoirs, skimpy Sierra snowpack, and 16 million more people living here than during the devastating drought of 1977, the real fear is the likelihood of a fourth straight year of drought. Historically, that isn’t unusual. And while many parts of the state will struggle to get through 2014 by letting crops go fallow and putting in place draconian water conservation measures,  if the drought extends into 2015  no one will  escape severe impacts including the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

It is why the SSJID is doubling up on efforts to warn farmers and the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy alike that steps need to be taken now to avoid the real potential for economic devastation and losses in 2015.

“Every day that goes by the tools (conservation measures) that are available become less effective,” noted SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields.

Whatever water farmers and cities can conserve from today through the end of this year might be critical to keeping trees alive, toilets flushing, and grass green in 2015.

“The SSJID with good management of water and conservation by everyone should get by this year alright,” Shields said. “That’s not the case for a fourth year of drought.”

The SSJID is starting its irrigation season March 1.

As much as the district board would like to start it sooner, they view it as more critical to assure water supplies later in the hot summer. Plus it makes more economic sense for farmers — and big water uses such a cities that employ pumps — to switch to pumping more ground water now instead of water.

That’s because PG&E kilowatt hour rates go up May 1 by 30 percent for pumps. That means water from the ground is cheaper today than it will be after May.

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