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TID: 'It's really dry out there'
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Ceres may never compare to a city like Seattle in terms of yearly rainfall, but when the California Department of Water Resources begins using terms such as "critically dry" to refer to this most recent drought year, local water officials sit up and take notice. The 2008 water year came to an end last week, officially marking the second year of drought for the area.

Statewide water runoff was just 57 percent of normal for the year. Major reservoirs are lucky to be at one-third of their normal capacity, when in a normal year the reservoirs would be closer to two-thirds full.

"We plan for the worst case scenario," said Michelle Reimers, Turlock Irrigation District Public Information Manager. "Even a really wet year would not put Don Pedro (reservoir) where we'd be on a normal year."

State water officials have warned that a third consecutive drought year in 2009 could pose major challenges to not only the environment, but also the local economy. To Stanislaus County farmers, 2008 was detrimental enough.

"This year, due to drought conditions, we had a smaller water allotment and a cap," Reimers said. "No matter what, that was it."

In normal years, farmers have the benefit of both a larger base amount of water and the ability to buy extra water, albeit at a higher price. This year, with a hard cap on the amount of water farmers could purchase, some ranches found themselves in trouble.

To make matters worse, the irrigation season was shortened by almost 15 days this year due to the drought, opening March 13 and coming to a close earlier this week on Oct. 7. Nut farmers in particular were caught out by the shortened season.

"Almond farmers have two varieties of trees," Reimers explained. "They harvest the one, irrigate, harvest the other, and then irrigate again. A lot didn't get the last irrigation in, and that really affected them."

According to Reimers, missing that last irrigation is not likely to kill the trees, but it could result in smaller crops next season.

Some farmers are taking matters into their own hands, using groundwater pumps to pull new irrigation water from underground basins. TID is assisting farmers who go this route, offering the use of canals to get water where it is needed, but there is a fear that agricultural pumping could eventually create problems.

Today, TID makes use of surface water for irrigation purposes, using rainfall and snowmelt to water crops. This water soaks through the ground to gradually refill aquifers, becoming the water that Ceres drinks.

Unfortunately, should another drought come in the 2009 water year, farmers will likely pump even more groundwater. Increased agricultural pumping could offset even a significant conservation effort by the citizens of Ceres.

"I think everyone around the state is feeling (the drought)," Reimers said, "and perhaps 2009 could be the same way."

Reimers encourages Cereans to take a look at the California Department of Water Resources Web site, available at, where up-to-date information on the drought is available. If local citizens get an idea of just how bad things are, she thinks they may reconsider their water use habits.

"People don't realize how serious some of our water issues are," Reimers said. "We're blessed having the Tuolumne River where it is."