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Snowpack just 14% of normal
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They are golfing and sunbathing along the snowless shores of Lake Tahoe.

Fifty percent of the visitors showing up at Mammoth — historically the only ski resort in California that typically has ski runs operating as late as June —are opting to go fishing instead.

Still, the results of the Department of Water Resources compiled Saturday were  stunning.

The March 1 statewide survey showed the snowpack at 11 percent of normal for March 1 and at 13 percent of normal for the critical April 1 date. It was a tad better for March 1 on the Stanislaus River basin that is at 14 percent of normal but the April 1 percentage was worse coming in at 12 percent.

“Yikes, much worse than I expected,” noted Jeff Shields, general manager for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

Shields and others involved with managing the Stanislaus River watershed were anticipating the snowpack survey to come in at 20 percent and not 14 percent. They were using the 20 percent outlook to set in motion the declaration of a water emergency in the SSJID service area ad out in place mandated cutbacks to farmers and the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy.

Given the new numbers, the 20 percent reduction for urban users and the capping of water to farmers at 32 inches per acre might end up not being enough raising the prospect of much more severe cutbacks to be imposed.

The April 1 data is the linchpin of projecting snowmelt for the rest for the water year that ends Sept. 30. If the figures hold, that means the Sierra snowpack that  typically meets almost 60 percent of the state’s annual developed water needs for urban and farm use will virtually be non-existent.

And with reservoirs tapped out from the first three years of the drought, the Central Valley Water Project put all of its agricultural customers on notice they will receive no water this year while water districts using CVP water that serve cities will get 25 percent of their allocation. It could improve by April 1, but hydrologists are warning there is a good chance it will get worse forcing the CVP to slash urban water deliveries even more.

Not helping things was the storm system that moved into the area on Friday. It was supposed to bring four days of periodic light showers. It has ended up being almost a total bust.

And with the forecast models projecting up to seven days that rain or snow might fall in March, the outlook is bleak given that the systems expected to materialize may bring light rain at best.

The SSJID is the only government agency in the South County to declare a water emergency. Manteca’s leaders have expressed concern and said they will be looking at additional water conservation measures but nothing more than that at this point.

While Manteca can simply increase pumping from its wells, the city will be depending on an aquifer that is dropping and will go into further distress as farmers turn to groundwater to bring crops to market.