By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
SSJID leader: Cities better step up conservation
Shrinking water storage at New Melones is triggering a South County water emergency. - photo by Photo Contributed

Tulloch Lake is going to disappear by this fall.

The Stanislaus River is likely to dry up in June or July.

Flows this spring and early summer at Knights Ferry that usually run 600 to 700 cubic feet per second will be at 150 cubic feet per second.

And New Melones Reservoir will “dry up” with only 80,000 acre feet of “dead storage” of water that is below the level of lake outlets sometime before Oct 1.

Tri-Dam Project and Bureau of Reclamation data released Thursday paints that scenario based on current conditions and what storm systems are currently in the outlook for the Stanislaus River shed.

The unprecedented water crisis that is expected to reduce the once mighty New Melones Reservoir to a mere puddle by late summer is prompting the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board to consider Tuesday declaring a water emergency.

And while the two districts have enough water in projected run-off and carry over shortage in a New Melones conservation accounts to meet all their needs this year with tight conservation measures, there isn’t enough for protected fish.

To avoid triggering an Environmental Species Act issue, the districts are moving to reduce water use even further.

Without doing so, there will be no flow water for salmon in the Stanislaus River during the critical October to December months. The loss of a cold water pool at New Melones when the reservoir dips below 350,000 acre feet will trigger a kill off of protected fish. That is why Tulloch Lake is likely to be drained so pass through water doesn’t warm to lethal levels.

For SSJID, that means capping farmers at 32 inches of water an acre to save an estimated 39,000 acre feet of water this year.

In addition the district board is considering going to tiered rates in 2016 if needed to further encourage farmers to conserve water.

There is no snow below 8,500 feet on the Stanislaus River watershed that supplies water to area farms as well as the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy. And of the miserly 168,100 acre feet of water run-off into New Melones so far this water year, over 35 percent is coming from releases of stored water from previous years at Donnells and Beardsley reservoirs operated by SSJID in conjunction with Oakdale Irrigation District.

Most of that water will end up flowing in the Stanislaus River in late spring and summer will end up being water stored by OID and SSJID in the Tri-Dam Project.

• • •

SSJID leader: Cities need to conserve more

“Manteca has received less than an inch of rain in more than two months and that’s in the dead of winter,” noted SSJID General Manger Jeff Shields. 

Shields said the situation has “gone from bad to worse” with the snowpack expected to come in at a record low of 17 to 18 percent of average at month’s end on the Stanislaus River watershed.

“Cities had better start putting in more water conservation measures now,” Shields said.

Shields said aquifers will take a major hit in this end of the county as farmers in Eastern San Joaquin County and even in the SSJID that are cut off from surface water will resort to pumping.

The storm this month brought no snow to the watershed below 8,500 feet but did bring some light rain that was enough to melt what snow had fallen so far this water year. The current flow out of Donnells — the highest reservoir on the Stanislaus — is 55 cubic feet per second. that is significantly more than what is flowing into the Tri-Dam Project reservoir.

Right now, fish are surviving in part in New Melones based on stored after releases from Tri-Dam reservoirs.

The normal annual runoff into New Melones is 1,050,000 acre feet. So far, 168,100 acre feet have flowed into the reservoir that has a 2.4 million acre foot capacity.

Storage as of Feb. 13 was 597,000 acre feet with an additional inflow of 31,900 acre feet based on what is in the ground. That would bring the total water to 628,900 acre feet. Once the dead pool storage is subtracted, the useable storage for 2015 is 548,900 acre feet of water.

Between the 420,000 acre feet that goes to OID and SSJID as the first in line plus minimum fish flow requirements of 180,900 acre feet there is a 51,055 acre-foot shortfall.