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'Critically dry year' for irrigation

POSTED May 7, 2013 10:50 p.m.

California is not technically in a drought, yet; but low snowpack and a dry spring is not looking good for local growers.

The state's recent findings have the winter snowpack at 17 percent of normal, according to Chief Surveyor for the Department of Water Resources Frank Gehrke. This is a problem as the state heavily depends on melted snow to replenish reservoirs throughout the summertime.

According to the state findings, 2013 has been the driest January and February on record with only a combined total of 2.3 inches in precipitation. The dry conditions have forced the DWR to lower its estimated delivery to 35 percent compared to its previous 40 percent. Despite the impact, the DWR has not yet declared a drought.

Snow censors for the Tuolumne River Basin are approximately 17 percent of normal, and the snow course measurements are at approximately 27 percent of normal, according to Turlock Irrigation District Utility Analyst of Water Resources, Jason Carkeet.  To date, precipitation has been roughly 68 percent of normal for the TID.

“Neither one of those by itself gives the entire picture,” said TID spokesman Herb Smart, “but together, they indicate critically dry conditions. The current measurements and conditions they represent will have an adverse impact on TID water supply.”

According to TID, California’s precipitation has declined since December. As a result, January’s snow sensors were all but 130 percent of normal. In April, they decreased to roughly 60 percent before falling to a whopping 17 percent within one month’s time.

“A similar story is reflected in rainfall numbers,” said Smart. “May can be seen as the last chance to get any substantive precipitation. However, even if the May average of 1.64 inches of precipitation falls in the Tuolumne River Basin, it would not have a significant impact on the overall conditions with respect to it being a critically dry year.”

TID has already implemented a 30 inch cap rule for its irrigation customers after declaring 2013 a dry year, but whether local growers will alter their water plans is a concern.

Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian believes that certain individuals may run out of water sooner than they anticipated this year.

 

Although the conditions do not seem as dire yet, with Don Pedro at 72 percent capacity and Hetch Hetchy at 83 percent, if dry conditions continue, droughts will occur throughout the state and that could affect TID customers even further.

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