By DENNIS WYATT
Low water levels in reservoirs across California plus little chance for record rain conditions to develop from the Pacific Ocean this winter is prompting state water officials to warn 2014 may require stern conservation measures.
Normal rainfall, if it were to occur, will not erase the pressure on water supplies created by back-to-back dry years. Many reservoirs in the state are well below average with Pine Flat Reservoir in Fresno County at 16 percent of capacity.
While the rest of California is bracing for the worst, South San Joaquin Irrigation District expects to be able to meet all irrigation and urban demands in 2014 even if there is a third straight dry year.
“If the board decides there is a need for an early (irrigation) run in January or February based on conditions we will be in a position to do that,” noted SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields.
The SSJID has at least 70,000 acre feet in its conservation account at New Melones Reservoir. Thanks to adjudicated water rights secured by the SSJID founders over a century ago plus the building of the original Melones Reservoir that the Bureau of Reclamation inundated, SSJID and Tri-Dam Project partner Oakdale Irrigation District receive the first 300,000 acre feet of run-off on the Stanislaus River watershed.
SSJID’s position is made even better by the foresight in the 1910s to create an in-district water storage facility at Woodward Reservoir. It has been enhanced by an aggressive district program that has funded conservation improvements at individual farming operations in Ripon, Escalon, and Manteca as well as the conversion of the southwest portion of the district to a state-of-the-art delivery system that allows drip irrigation.
Shields noted the cities that receive surface water from SSJID — Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy — have also taken an aggressive stance toward conserving water.
Mike Cowin of the state Department of Water Resources said a drought has not been declared, but water managers will face a challenge if 2014 is dry.
The first 10 months of 2013 has been the driest January through October on record in some parts of California.
The critical area for precipitation is the Sierra. Most of the state’s water comes from the Sierra snowpack.
By DENNIS WYATT