California needs El Niño water...not a weather dud

California needs El Niño water...not a weather dud

El Niño better not be a dud after all this talk of late because things are not good water wise in California.

We've got reservoirs that, at their current rates of decline, could go dry before winter rains begin. Based on the forecasts, the likelihood of a significant rainy season is pretty good.

One of those reservoirs likely to dry up this summer will be McClure Reservoir on the Merced River. It’s losing 500 to 1,000 acre feet of storage per day and is already down to 10 percent capacity.

Other lakes are not far behind, ranging from under 8 percent on the Tule River (Success Dam) to about 40 percent at Shasta Lake.

The only reservoirs near full this time of year are Hetch Hetchy and Pyramid, primarily used as urban sources of water and thus are protected differently than the others. The rest are arguably used for political gain.

Meanwhile, Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River flirts with dead pool status. It will reach that when levels drop another 40,000 acre feet. The San Joaquin River is conveying Millerton water to Exchange Contractors, a group of growers with water rights dating back to the 19th Century.

Millerton is not the only lake suffering greatly. Folsom, which feeds Sacramento residents, is said to be close to dead pool status as well.

One of the early impacts of a strong El Niño like we’re seeing now is rain at a time of year that California typically does not see it. This can lead to all sorts of problems and challenges for those growing a wide variety of crops.

Generally, California’s Mediterranean climate leaves us high and dry during the summer months, which is a good thing for producing high quality, high value crops on irrigation. It’s generally good when surface irrigation water is plentiful and rain is nowhere to be seen.

This year, we saw some mid-July storms from Hurricane Dolores drop heavy rain on parts of California. Heavy rains flooded canning tomatoes in the Central Valley and fell on parts of the Central Coast wine growing region. It’s too early to determine the impact this could have on one of the state’s premier wine regions, if any.

As bad as things are for California, I remain amazed at just how determined farmers are.

As one who sources his food from these farmers, I need them to succeed. We all need them to succeed if we want to have the variety of food we currently enjoy from our local stores, restaurants and farmers markets.

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