Though wetter conditions in Stanislaus County as of late have helped ease the drought-related concerns of local farmers, Turlock Irrigation District Utility Analyst Jason Carkeet warns that it may not be a cause to celebrate just yet.
“I wouldn’t say we’re on the right track, but we’ve had a good year,” said Carkett. “Looking at the larger scale, there are indications that it could very well be dry again next year.”
According to data collected from September up until March 29, the Tuolumne River Watershed has accumulated 35.93 inches of precipitation, which is 120.6 percent of the region’s historical average for that date. After what Carkeet described as the driest four years the state has seen in 1,100 years, this is refreshing information for local growers.
After historically-low water cap allotments in previous years, the current water conditions allowed TID to implement a 36-inch water allocation for the 2016 irrigation season, running April 7 through Oct. 19. In non-drought years, the typical water cap allotment is 48 inches, with the previous three years seeing water cap allotments ranging from 24 to 18 inches.
Good news also came when the Department of Water Resources released its latest snowpack survey Wednesday. It was reported in the survey that at the Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada East of Sacramento, snow was measured at 58.4 inches deep with a water content of 26 inches. Though this is still only 97 percent of the long-term average at Phillips, the conditions have dramatically improved from 2015’s zero depth and zero water content on April 1.
While water conditions are looking up, Carkeet cited tree ring data studies as a way to keep expectations of approaching dry years realistic. The growth rings of tree trunks are one proxy used by scientists to learn about drought-related patterns of the past – thin rings mean growth stunted by a lack of water, while larger rings represent wetter years.
Although the 2015-2016 precipitation season has been above average, the tree ring data shows that there have been many droughts in California’s past that lasted decades – some even lasting for centuries – and many of them had a few wet years sprinkled in between the dry ones.
Carkeet believes we may be in the middle of a similar drought, finding relief in a singular, above-average year of rainfall.
“To come out and say, ‘Hey, we’re on our way out if this,’ that would be foolish I think,” said Carkeet. “Not foolish, but naïve maybe.”