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2016 prognosis looking scary
new melones
Large areas of New Melones Reservoir are now dry as it drops to near 10 percent of capacity. - photo by Photo Contributed

It will take 3.1 times the rainfall and snow that fell on the Stanislaus River watershed this past year in order for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and the three cities they serve — Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy — to be where they are at now when October 2016 rolls around.

Modeling conducted on the watershed indicated 800,000 acre feet of water must flow into New Melones Reservoir over the next 12 months to preserve the current status quo.

Without it, the SSJID and the growers and cities they serve will face a “dire situation next year” warned SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields.

Only 260,000 acre feet of water has flowed into New Melones so far during the current water year that ends Wednesday. That compared to 320,000 acre feet that flowed into the reservoir in 2015 and 340,000 acre feet in 2014, the third and second years respectively of the current drought.

Shields noted up through this year storage coupled with aggressive conservation has allowed the district and much of the rest of California to weather the drought.

“The reservoirs did what they were (designed) to do,” Shields said.

The problem is now that they have been depleted extensively — New Melones that can hold as much as 2.4 million acre feet of water was down to 276,593 acre feet as of Wednesday — the reservoirs will be of little or no help in helping much of California to bridge a fifth year of drought even if it eases up a bit. New Melones is slowly approaching 10 percent of capacity.

Shields and other experts say the El Nino weather pattern settling in over California may be of little or no help.

That’s because not all El Nino systems bring above average — or even average — precipitation to the mid-Sierra that feeds the Stanislaus River.

“We’d better pray for rain,” Shields said.

Overall, Southern California typically benefits the most. That will have minimal impact on water storage critical for bridging the summer and fall months given the south state doesn’t have that much storage capacity. Sixty percent of the state’s developed water supply relies on the Sierra snowpack to serve as de facto storage.

Shields said it is imperative that everyone continue conserving water even as the weather cools and winter returns.

The SSJID is ending the current irrigation season on Oct. 12.