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2016 could be disaster for S. County farms, cities
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New Melones Reservoir — projected to “go dry” sometime in August due to the ongoing California drought — is prompting the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board Tuesday to formally adopt mandatory water emergency rules.

The 9 a.m. public hearing to consider adoption of a 36-inch water allotment per acre for the upcoming irrigation season that starts March 16 is a follow up to the board’s decision two weeks ago to declare a water emergency. The board meets at the district office at 11001 East Highway 120.

The SSJID move may allow it to get by this year. However, if the drought persists 2016 could turn into a disaster hence the move to save whatever water the district can.

Based on current data, the district’s conservation account at New Melones will be drawn down 67,000 acre feet of water this year to meet urban and farming needs in the South County. That will leave the district just 10,000 acre feet in carryover for 2016.

At the same time, other demands on New Melones Reservoir, that has a 2.4 million acre-foot capacity, will drop below 80,000 acre feet in August. That is the level that the reservoir will become “dead” as the remaining water is below outlets. It means water, to keep the Stanislaus River flowing, will have to be pumped up and into the outlet.

The district used several thousand acre feet from the conservation account last year to meet full deliveries with aggressive water conservation strategies in place. This year the district will have to nearly deplete its conservation account even after capping farmers to 36 inches per acre of water for the season for a 16 percent reduction and reducing cities back 20 percent indefinitely starting April 1. That would leave the district with a projected 10,000 acre-feet in their carryover account on Sept. 30.

Should the drought continue into a fifth year with conditions as bad as this year or even a little bit better as they were in 2014, the district would be unable to meet even the reduced deliveries they are mandating for this year.

The March 1 statewide survey showed the snowpack at 11 percent of normal for March 1 and at 13 percent of normal for the critical April 1 date. It was a tad better for March 1 on the Stanislaus River basin that is at 14 percent of normal but the April 1 percentage was worse coming in at 12 percent.

The April 1 data is the linchpin of projecting snowmelt for the rest for the water year that ends Sept. 30. If the figures hold that means the Sierra snowpack that typically meets almost 60 percent of the state’s annual developed water needs for urban and farm use will virtually be non-existent.

And with reservoirs tapped out from the first three years of the drought, the Central Valley Water Project put most of its agricultural customers on notice they will receive no water this year while water districts using CVP water that serve cities will get 25 percent of their allocation. It could improve by April 1, but hydrologists are warning there is a good chance it will get worse forcing the CVP to slash urban water deliveries even more.

And with the forecast models projecting up to four days that rain or snow might fall in March, the outlook is bleak given that the systems expected to materialize may bring light rain at best.

The SSJID is the only government agency in the South County to declare a water emergency. Manteca’s leaders have expressed concern and said they will be looking at additional water conservation measures but nothing more than that at this point.

While Manteca can simply increase pumping from its wells, the city will be depending on an aquifer that is dropping and will go into further distress as farmers turn to groundwater.

 to bring crops to market.