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Area faces dire water situation
Little snow in the mountains
Dan Vink, manager of the Lower Tule Irrigation District, says this could be a long, dry summer if March and April do not see well-above average rainfall and snow.
Vink made that comment Wednesday after learning that surveyors for the Sequoia National Forest found the fourth least amount of snow at Quaking Aspen at the end of February in a decade.
“It’s shaping up a lot like, or worse, than last year,” said Vink.
Josh Courter, a hydrologist with the forest service, reported he found on average 18.5 inches of snow on the ground at the 7,000-foot snow course. That is slightly better than last year’s 16.7 inches, the 17.4 inches found in 2003 and way better than the 7.7 inches found in 2006, but far below the 10-year average of 44.7 inches.
“We’re so far behind, even if March and April are wet, we don’t catch up,” said Vink, noting it would take 60,000 acre feet of water in the mountains to fill Success Lake — now at 20,000 acre feet — and he doubts there is that much on the mountain or will be when the snow season ends.
Courter said he found many bare spots on the snow course where about 10 measurements are taken to come up with an average.
“It really hasn’t changed,” he said from the end of January when he found 26.3 inches of snow containing 8.7 inches of water. He noted that last week’s storm that dumped .57 of an inch of rain on Portervile and about 7 inches of snow at Quaking Aspen, definitely helped.
However, he also noted it was a balmy 55 degrees at Quaking Aspen Wednesday and the snow was melting fast.
Average precipitation at Quaking Aspen tends to be 35 inches, “and we’re at 20 (57 percent of average),” he noted, adding it would take 15 inches of precipitation just to get to normal.
There is no rain in the forecast through early next week and the predicted high for Saturday is a very warm 79 degrees.
Vink said the forecast probably means just a four-week irrigation run in the district, about half of what they were able to do last year.
The good news is the Friant water shed that feeds the Friant-Kern Canal is in better shape, better than a year ago.
The Department of Reclamation has given its initial water delivery forecast of 65 percent of Class I water, which at 100 percent is 800,000 acre feet. Vink pointed out that amount, and it could go lower, is only about 35 percent of what the area receives on average.
The most snow found at the end of March in the past 10 years was 72 inches in 2008. In 2011, after 8 inches of rain fell in Porterville in December of 2010, surveyors found 57.3 inches of snow, but with 27.7 inches of water. The most water found at the end of February was 43 inches in 2010.
The worst by far, 2006 when only 2.6 inches of water was measured on the mountain.
Vink said what the lack of snowfall means is farmers will have to pump more water from the underground, further depleting that important resource.
“The coffee shop talk is wells are going dry and it will be a difficult summer,” he said, adding the underground water table is already dropping “and it’s not even March.”
Even the back-to-back wet years of 2009-10 and 2010-11 did not do much to bring up the underground water table, said Vink, and with farmers growing more crops year-round, there is hardly any break in the pumping.
“We’re seeing cropping patterns now that are more water intensive,” he said. “We are at a border-line crisis on this groundwater thing. We need to do something about it,” he said.
Still, Vink had a hint of optimism in his message. “There’s still March and April. A lot remains to be seen.”