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Year ahead may be dry for Lodi area

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Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:37 am, Fri Jan 13, 2012.

While the lack of rain has made for some beautiful winter weather, the region is desperate for some moisture.

About 95 percent of Central Valley rainfall hits between October and March. January marks the middle of the rainy season with only 5.64 inches of rain in the Mokelumne River Basin to show for it, making it the second driest year on record, according to a hydrology report prepared by East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Lodi has seen only 2.03 inches, according to Weather Underground.

This time last year, more than 11 inches of rain had already fallen in Lodi. Through the season, Lodi got 23 inches of rain.

This winter has been so dry that more rain fell in July than in December.

This time of year, the Sierras are normally covered in a healthy layer of snow. Right now, it’s more of a light powder with a depth of about 3 inches, according to the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program.

“It’s starting out to be an extremely dry year,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the Department of Water Resources. “We’re looking to see what the future holds.”

EBMUD staff predict just a 10 percent chance that enough rain can fall in the rest of the season to pull this year’s numbers up to average.

As a result, local irrigation districts might have to cut their water allowances.

“We’ll need to coordinate more closely than ever if we’re working with those numbers,” said Andy Christensen, manager for the Woodbridge Irrigation District, at a board of directors meeting Thursday.

In previous years, dry early winters have led to rough rain in late spring, which could hurt cherry crops.

But a game changer might be on the way. A major weather pattern more conducive to rain could be here as soon as next week, according to Mark Paquette, a forecaster with Accuweather.com, a private forecasting service.

The jet stream has run more to the north than normal this year, so storms are hitting more of Oregon, Washington and Canada. But next week’s change in pattern will, with any luck, drag that stream further south and bring storms to the Valley.

It’s too soon to know whether next week’s rains will be enough to make up for what is shaping up to be a dry 2012.

But what does a dry year mean for Lodi citizens?

For the city, it means pumping more groundwater.

Normally, Lodi gets about 3,000 acre-feet from Woodbridge Irrigation District. The city needs about 17,000 acre-feet a year, but the most they can safely pump from the ground is 15,000. That’s about how much trickles back into the groundwater basin from rivers, irrigation and normal rain from this area.

Public Works Director Wally Sandelin is keeping a watchful eye on groundwater usage.

“We’re concerned the state could impose their regulations if we are not proactive about groundwater,” said Sandelin.

Thankfully, major reservoirs had a very good carry over from last year. Pardee is holding 168,058 acre-feet, about 85 percent of normal levels, while Camanche is holding 255,124 acre-feet, about 61 percent of normal.

With reserves like this and thoughtful conservation, even a year with little rain isn’t likely to leave area residents hung out to dry.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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