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Rains fill park basins, snarl traffic
Don Pedro Reservoir rises 16 feet in month
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City streets division workers clear out storm drain gutters on Wix Lane yesterday as Roeding Heights Park filled with rainwaters. Most larger parks double as storm retention basins. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

A parade of storms have dumped welcome rains onto Ceres but also helped contribute to a traffic accident early Tuesday that snarled northbound Highway 99 traffic stretching from Turlock to Mitchell Road.

The 5 a.m. crash occurred atop the freeway Mitchell Road overcrossing when a big-rig tangled with a passenger car, jackknifed and damaged the guardrail. It took hours for the removal of the hung-up tractor and repairs by Caltrans crews - which caused major backups on northbound Hwy. 99 as far as south of Keyes.

Most of the city parks that double as storm water retention basins were covered in rain water yesterday, something that hasn't been seen in about five years.

"It's good news for everything," said Ceres City Manager Toby Wells of the rain. "We need it ... as long as we don't get it all at once."

Ceres streets were relatively free from significant flooding because the city has "really intensified maintenance efforts" for the storm drain system, said Wells. Those efforts have included cleaning out grates and pipes and making sure pumps stay operational.

The so-far wet season is helping the water picture in California. An estimated two inches of rain fell in the Ceres area between 6 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday. Nearly an inch of rain was expected to fall Tuesday and more rain is expected on Friday. Wells said the area groundwater table will recharge from the rains but the hope is that the timing of storms allows the ground time to percolate.

Downtown Modesto has seen 8.79 inches of rain since July 1. The season (July 1- June 30) average for the area is 12.15 inches.

Don Pedro Reservoir has risen nearly 16 feet in the last 30 days thanks to the El Nino rains that appear to have ended the four-year California drought. But it's still a far cry from where it normally is this time in the year.

The reservoir on the Tuolumne River stood at 692.38 feet above sea level on Tuesday, up from 676.68 feet on Dec. 20. For it to be filled to the brim at 830 feet, Don Pedro would have to rise another 137.62 feet and most weather experts say that's not going to happen in a single rain year.

The lowest the lake has been was in 1977 when it dropped to 598 feet.

The storage numbers give a better picture of just how much catching up the lake has to do. The lake's maximum storage level is 2,030,000 acre-feet. An acre foot is equivalent to a foot of water covering one acre. As of Tuesday, the lake contained 753,893 acre-feet of water, which is about 37.1 percent of capacity.

Holding more promise in filling depleted lakes is the snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas.