When it comes to the water year this summer, it could be referred to as a season on the brink.
Tule River Water Master David De Groot announced on Monday water from the Tule River began to be run off over this past weekend. “Unfortunately we won't be able to have a long water run off,” De Groot said.
De Groot said the water runoff will last 30 days through mid-August. He added the Tule River's flow was just at 15.6 percent of normal.
The Success Lake storage is now just above 15,000 feet. After the runoff is completed, De Groot said Success Lake will be down to around 7,000 feet. That's the lowest level the lake will be at since the dire drought of 2014-2015.
So while the area won't have a water situation as dire as it was in 2014-2015, De Groot said another dry year will bring on conditions that were similar to 2014-2015. He said with another dry year the situation would “emulate what happened in 14 and 15.”
De Groot said this year's water runoff will be enough “to benefit those in the Porterville area” who depend on wells for the day-to-day use of water. But obviously the amount of water that can be diverted to farmers will be severely hampered.
The lack of surface water has put a strain on groundwater supplies as farmers continue to pump more groundwater in dry years. To stop the strain on groundwater supplies, farmers are having to fallow their land and not grow as much in many cases.
And having a farmer sacrificing land to save groundwater supplies is easier said than done. As De Groot noted the area is the “breadbasket of the world. It takes water to grow food.”
While he said his job is to make sure the water from the Tule River is distributed as efficiently as possible, he added he's not the one who faces the difficult decision as he's just a water accountant, so to speak.
“We're the auditors,” he said. “The numbers are the numbers. It is what it is. The biggest challenge is to the farmers.”
De Groot said statistically the area is due for another wet year. “We're due for another wet year in the next couple of years,” he said.
He said the key will be to use the water that's available in wet years to help replenish groundwater supplies.
The low level of the Tule River compares similarly to other rivers in the Valley. San Joaquin Valley reported the Kern River is at 17 percent of normal, the Kaweah River was at 16 percent of normal and the Kings River was at 10 percent of normal.
The lack of surface water has taken its toll on groundwater supply. SJV Water also reported the State Department of Water Resource's online portal groundwater map shows water levels in wells across the San Joaquin Valley from 2010 to 2020 have dropped more than 10 feet.