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Rain helps but how much?
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The torrential downpours over the past week have been a boon to the local water supply, but a relatively dry December and January have left the region in need of more strong storms throughout March. The TID water level is currently below even last year's lows, which resulted in reduced irrigation allotments to farmers.

"It's not great by any means," said Rob Santos, Turlock Irrigation District Director. "Last year we had 21 inches in our watershed on Feb. 14. This year we had about 19 inches. It looks like it's as it was last year, or worse."

A TID Water Supply Update pegs the 2009 water supply as uncertain. Even with an especially wet winter, Don Pedro Reservoir is likely not to fill, and TID could be unable to provide a full allotment again this year.

Precipitation in the watershed has been close to the average projection for this time of year, landing around 87 percent of normal, but snowpack and full natural flow are both far below expectations, at 65 percent and 58 percent of normal, respectively.

A California Department of Water Resources report on Water Conditions in California, released Feb. 1, puts seasonal precipitation at 80 percent of normal in the San Joaquin hydrologic region from Oct. 1, 2008, to Jan. 31. Forecasts for water runoff in the region were only 70 percent of normal for the year.

Making matters worse, Don Pedro Reservoir was only at 56 percent of capacity at the end of January, due to low water levels coming into this year. At the end of the 2008 irrigation season, Don Pedro Reservoir was at just 48 percent of capacity, 495,000 acre feet below the maximum water level. The reservoir was last full at the start of the 2007 irrigation season.

According to TID officials, despite the low water levels so far, the likelihood of this year's irrigation supply being worse than last year's is slim.

During the 2008 irrigation season the watershed received no rain in March, putting a strain on the available water supply. Not only was there less water in the reservoir due to the lack of rain, but also TID was forced to release water early to compensate for the absence of rainwater irrigation.

"We're still cautiously optimistic," Santos said. "If we have some rain in March, we'll probably end up as last year or better."

TID will hold their annual grower meetings from March 2-5 to update farmers on the current conditions. Among the topics for discussion will be the watershed status, irrigation season outlook, and Tuolumne River hydrology.