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SNOW DROUGHT: WILL IT LAST?

New Melones is ‘full’ but problems loom

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SNOW DROUGHT: WILL IT LAST?

This rendering shows the McHenry Avenue bridge replacement over the Stanislaus River south of Escalon in relation to SSJID’s main canal. The work could hamper an early irrigation run if it is needed.

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POSTED February 2, 2018 1:32 a.m.

New Melones is essentially “full” with 83 percent of the 2.4 million acre foot reservoir filled with water.
The fact New Melones being at 139 percent of normal on Feb. 1 should put a water manager’s mind at ease.
But with this being California, the only thing you can count on Mother Nature to be with rain and snow is unpredictable.
On Thursday when the Department of Water Resources snow survey showed water content near Echo Summit off Highway 50 in El Dorado County was at 14 percent of normal for the date, 40 percent of the state was declared to have slipped back into drought conditions. In addition Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, home to nearly a quarter of the state’s population, were rated in severe drought.
“Right now it’s a snow drought,” noted South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Peter Rietkerk.
While there are ample water supplies to make deliveries to SSJID farmers as well as the cities of Manteca, Tracy, and Lathrop Rietkerk said the big concern is 2019 if California is indeed going back into a multiple year period of drought.
Rietkerk noted how SSJID water is stored through agreements with the Bureau of Reclamation coupled with spring pulse flows critical to protect the endanger Chinook salmon on the Stanislaus River, Melones could “drop like a rock” this year depending not just on the size of the snowpack but when it falls.
If the snowpack — that provides 60 percent of California’s water needs — starts melting significantly before April 1 it will have a  severe impact on reservoir storage.
That’s because flows for fish in the spring coupled with other reservoir operations would accelerate the use of snow melt from the watershed at the wrong time. A later snow melt that starts after April essentially holds the water content in snow as a de facto reservoir.
Rietkerk noted it is critical for everyone to understand that the wild fluctuations in precipitation is normal for California not just in modern times since weather has been tracked by man starting in the 1860s but also over the centuries. Some scientist using tree ring studies argue that mega-droughts exceeding 50 years with short pauses of a year or two with wetter weather is more the norm than the last 100 years California has experienced.
“Conservation and more storage are critical,” Rietkerk said.
Temperatures in Manteca are expected to peak in the low 70s for four days starting Tuesday. The average high temperature for Manteca in February is 61 degrees. That average typically is reached with colder days at the front of the month against warner days as March nears. The temperature will be nine degrees over the average just six days into the month.
Depending upon wind, soil dryness, and whether warmer temperatures prompts almonds and other orchard trees to start budding earlier will play a role in any discussions the SSSID might have for an early irrigation run.
“Right now we are just monitoring the situation,” Rietkerk said.
Rietkerk did note the SSJID is making every effort to wrap up work on canals and at Woodward Reservoir in the event an early run is needed. At the same time the $2.8 million McHenry Avenue bridge replacement project over the Stanislaus River is expected to be at a point in a week or so where the main canal will not be impacted by construction
In Manteca, Bianchi Ranch Partners led by Bill Filios have implemented an accelerated schedule to relocate SSJID lines that need to be done so the Atherton Drive extension between Union Road and Airport Way can be completed this year. Bianchi Ranch Partners are overseeing the project for the city to keep it moving so that the SSJID facility work can be completed quickly. If that doesn’t happen, the road project would have to be delayed until late fall.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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