A rare event could happen this year – New Melones Reservoir could come near to holding its designed storage capacity of 2.4 million acre feet of water.
It is something that hasn’t happened for a decade.
Just a year ago the South San Joaquin Irrigation District was struggling to make sure they had enough water to get through the water year even with imposed cutbacks of more than 20 percent of deliveries to urban and farm users. The SSJID board waited as long as possible to start the first irrigation run in February. Now, depending upon local rain in the coming weeks that has turned spotty following major storm after storm, water deliveries may not start until April.
“A lot of our growers are dealing with the impact of too much water,” SSJID General Manager Peter Rietkerk noted.
The SSJID board on Tuesday postponed a decision on when to start the irrigation season until March 21. At that time they will assess the need based on weather as well as take into account emergency repair work being done on the main canal that sustained storm damage.
New Melones Reservoir was at 66 percent of capacity Tuesday and 107 percent of average. The Bureau of Reclamation was keeping outflows at a minimum — 249 cubic feet per second — while inflow was at 5,28t cubic feet per second.
“The Bureau has been managing New Melones well,” Rietkerk said.
Don Pedro Reservoir is at 99 percent of its 2 million acre foot capacity and 139 percent of average. Releases from the dam on the Tuolumne River — a concern of farmers and residents south of Manteca where that water eventually will flow between stressed levees of the San Joaquin River — was at 10,500 cubic feet per second. Inflow to Don Pedro is at 7,083 cubic feet per second.
Snowfall readings form automatic stations on the Stanislaus River watershed had the snow pack on Tuesday at 18 inches deeper than on Feb. 1
Overall the Sierra snowpack — that historically provides more than a third of all water used by California cities and farms — was at 185 percent of normal on March 1. That compares to 84 percent of normal at the same time last year.
All while there is a significant snow melt coming, Rietkerk noted it may be a challenge to see New Melones reach capacity due to demands placed on the Stanislaus River watershed for fish flows, cleaning Delta water and meeting Central Valley Project water contracts that have gone without a drop of water in recent years due to the drought.
The New Melones Reservoir is at the lowest level of the state’s eight largest reservoirs due to demands placed on the watershed and the fact it was overbuilt for the historic precipitation from the Stanislaus River water basin.
While there is a possibility 2018 could slip back into a dry year and the fact one significantly above average year won’t wipe out the impacts of a five-year drought in one fell swoop, Rietkerk said there are other challenges such as a push for bigger fish flows and the fact it is never smart to waste water. He urged users to keep using water wisely and not revert to wasting it.
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