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Emergency planners preparing for at least 2 more years
Arlene Rodriguez, left, and Ana Castellanos, both freshmen at Manteca High, walk around a puddle formed after the downpour Thursday morning in the parking lot of the Manteca Public Library. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO


• San Joaquin County issued 82 permits to drill wells in 2011. As of Sept. 20, they have issued 172 permits for wells this year.

• Once you have secured permits and contracted to have a well drilled in San Joaquin County, the backlog means you have a nine month wait before work will start.

• Drought food box giveaways within the county for farm workers put out of work by the drought is now at 600 a week.

It rained 0.51 inches in Manteca on Thursday.

And it did not ease Mike Cockrell’s worrying.

He’s worried because as it rained lawn sprinklers were on in many Manteca neighborhoods.

He’s worried because weather modelers agree there is now only a 60 percent chance of an El Nino storm pattern developing and just a 29 percent chance if it does that it will bring above normal rain and snow this winter.

He’s worried because the number of wells being drilled in San Joaquin County on a yearly basis has doubled since 2011.

He’s worried because he fears the return of winter weather will prompt people to slack off their conservation efforts.

He’s worried because Mountain House’s sole source of water — the Old River — is getting dangerously low.

He’s worried that 76 percent of San Joaquin County’s cherry crop was lost this year and some farm workers supporting families have been without work for two years.

He’s worried that the prolonged drought is creating conditions that make levees ripe for failure when the rains and snow run-off do return in either normal or above normal volumes.

He’s worried that the drought is prompting more mosquitoes along with birds to congregate at fewer spots meaning West Nile Virus cases will likely continue to increase

And he’s worried that we’re headed toward a fourth year of severe drought with the potential for it extending it to five years being a realistic possibility.

Cockrell is paid to worry.

For 33 years he’s been with the San Joaquin Office of Emergency Services.

Currently he is dealing with the longest running countywide emergency yet — the third year of a severe drought.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency in January noting they would renew that declaration every 30 days for as long as needed.

And given the forecasts and data that Cockrell is seeing, he’s preparing to do his best to help San Joaquin County residents, farmers, and businesses weather between four and five years of serious drought. That’s optimistic, he indicated, compared to state emergency planners who are assuming California will be ravaged by serious drought conditions for five to six years.

“It is important to note that 10-year drought cycles aren’t uncommon in California,” the director of emergency services told Manteca Rotarians Thursday during their meeting at the Rendezvous Room.

One of his biggest concerns — and that of other emergency planners up and down the state — is that people are being lulled into thinking the much talked about return of an El Nino weather pattern this winter will break the drought’s back.

The revised forecasts show that all 23 models used to project weather patterns show the El Nino, if it develops, will be a weak. And even if it does occur, models show any bump in rain and snow is expected to happen south of San Joaquin County in California with the biggest benefactors being Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico.

Cockrell said the county OES is keeping a close watch on Mountain House, a large residential community west of Tracy in the Altamont Hills. 

The community is served only by one water source — the Old River. As water flows continue to drop Mountain House has cut back 30 percent of their water use despite still growing.

Cockrell sees Mountain House as a barometer for the rest of the county if the drought continues.

He told Rotarians that options are already being discussed such as trying to pipe water from Tracy, cutting back outside landscape irrigation substantially, forcing a switch to drip irrigation and even possibly ordering the removal of all grass.

Lawns are the biggest household consumer of water.

Cockrell said that a building moratorium is in the mix should the drought worsen in such a manner that health and safety is in jeopardy due to a low supply of water.