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State warns of possible water shortages

California farmers relying on State Water Project water were warned Monday to prepare for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures.

Reservoir and groundwater levels are significantly below average, and despite recent storms, snowpack is only 58% of average as of March 10.

The warning to 44,000 users with water rights from the state project came weeks after the South San Joaquin Irrigation District advised growers they could face possible restrictions if the water year that started on Oct. 1 continued on a path that would create two back-to-back dry years.

As of Monday the entire Stanislaus River basin was considered to be in moderate drought based on the United States Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor.

The SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District rely on the Stanislaus River watershed for their water. The SSJID share of that water also helps provide drinking water to Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy.

The two districts do not receive any State Water Project Water. Tracy does receive some of its city water from the state system. Urban users aren’t typically placed on rationing until after agricultural users.

After two years of below average precipitation, state water officials don’t expect the April 1 snow survey to reveal significant improvement in the water supply outlook this year. April 1 is typically the peak of California’s snowpack, which in an average year provides 30% of the state’s water supply.

 “Planting crops and other decisions that are dictated by water supply are made early in the year, so early warnings are vital,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director for the Water Board’s Division of Water Rights. “These letters give water users time to prepare and help minimize the impacts of reduced supplies on businesses, farms and homes.”

Agricultural water users can implement practical actions now to improve their drought resilience, including reducing irrigated acreage, managing herd size, using innovative irrigation and diversifying water supply portfolios. Urban water users can conserve by putting in drought-resistant landscape, reducing outdoor irrigation and replacing older house fixtures and appliances with more efficient ones.