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New Melones almost two thirds empty
San Joaquin River USGS
The San Joaquin River was ranked the most endangered river by the environmental group American Rivers. - photo by Photo Contributed

The State of California is taking its campaign to remind people to conserve water to the streets, or more accurately, the freeways.

Caltrans’ 700 plus electronic message signs are now reminding California motorists the Golden State is in the throes of a severe drought and to conserve water.

As of Thursday the United States Department of Agriculture reports 93.81 percent of California is in a severe drought. That includes 83.33 percent of the state that is in extreme drought — the next measure of severity — and 38.74 percent that  falls into the worst category of exceptional drought.

That data along with reservoir levels underscores the statewide drought emergency declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The state’s two largest reservoirs each had less than 30 percent of historic average in storage on Friday for the date of Nov. 5.

That includes 22 percent for Shasta Lake and 28 percent for Oroville Lake.

Shasta with a capacity of 4.5 million acre feet is only at 36 percent capacity. The 3.5 million acre foot Oroville Lake is at 34 percent capacity.

Specific date historic averages are more telling than one-day capacity snapshots. That puts available water on perspective by using historic levels on specific dates.

The Stanislaus River watershed Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon relies on is somewhat better situated. New Melones Reservoir was at 63 percent of historic average capacity for Nov. 5. There are 830,028 acre feet of water behind New Melones that has a capacity of 2.4 million acre feet. In terms of stored water without the context of precious years. New Melones is at 35 percent capacity.

The water year that ended Sept. 30 was the fifth driest for the Stanislaus River watershed in the roughly 150 years that records have been kept.

Three of the six driest years on the Stanislaus River have now occurred during the current six year period stretching back to 2015. The fourth driest was in 2015, last year was the fifth driest and 2014 was the sixth driest.

Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy all receive treated water from SSJID in addition to pumping water from aquifers. However, all areas in California are facing a looming mandate preventing them from taking more water out of the ground than they return in a given year.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email