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Drought Concerns Linger For Region
O Fog
Heading into Oakdale on Highway 120, the fog was slowly lifting as the sun was trying to break through on a recent chilly day. Weather forecasters are looking for some much needed rain to hit the region late this week, possibly chasing out the fog and adding to the all-important precipitation totals. VIRGINIA STILL/The Leader

After a historically dry January, Oakdale Irrigation District officials are bracing for a fourth year of drought and all its implications.

OID and its partner on the Stanislaus River – the South San Joaquin Irrigation District – met this past week to frame a water operations plan that would offer farmers at least as much water as in 2014 while meeting minimum fish flows in the river.

OID officials will meet Thursday with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which operates New Melones Dam. They hope to arrive at an operations plan that balances the needs of agriculture and the environment.

As of Tuesday, New Melones sat at just 40 percent of its historic average for the date. Snowfall has been far below average in the Central and Southern Sierra. And rainfall in January was scant – just 0.10 of an inch in Oakdale after more than 7 inches fell in early December.

The National Weather Service forecast for February and March is for at least average rainfall. That would not make up for January – normally the wettest month – but would help ease farmers’ concerns for later this year, said OID General Manager Steve Knell.

“I think with a little bit of luck, we hope to deliver as least as much water as we delivered last year,” he said.

In 2014, the district diverted 208,000 acre-feet of water from the Stanislaus River to 2,900 ag customers. In most years, OID diverts about 235,000 acre feet.

“I think the irrigation season is shaping up to be tough again. But with help from the Bureau of Reclamation, all water users being conscientious, we should be able to make it through this season with minimal impacts,” Knell said.