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Local weather watchers: Area avoiding drought — for now

Forecasters say it’s too soon to tell if rainy days are ahead for Lodi area

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:26 am, Thu Oct 4, 2012.

It’s been hot and dry in Lodi for many weeks now. Time to worry about a drought? Not yet, say water watchers in the area.

“The rainy season commences in one month, and we’ll measure then. As far as how much do we have, it’s a nice supply,” said EBMUD spokes-man Charles Hardy.

The last official drought was from 2007 to 2009, and was the 12th driest year in recorded history in California. Current conditions leave water experts saying it’s too soon to tell.

Lake Camanche is currently at 63 percent of capacity, while Pardee Reservoir is more than 94 percent full.

The prudent thing to do is to plan for a dry year while hoping for lots of rainfall.

The 2012 water year has been a dry one, leaving those who rely on unmanaged water for their pastures and rangeland affected first by any water shortages.

East Bay Municipal Utility District, the public water agency that controls the flow of water on the Mokelumne River, doesn’t start their annual projections until Nov. 1, so it’s too soon to determine how much rain is needed in the coming months to keep the water supply flowing.

One local water district is ready no matter how much water comes down the river.

From history, Andy Christensen knows that about one in seven years are pretty dry, and sometimes those years pile up with two or three in a row.

“We have a plan for both, and approach each year as a dry year,” said Christensen, secretary for the Woodbridge Irrigation District.

The dry-year plan pulls back on water allotments to growers and keeps more water in reserve than the wet-year plan.

Sometimes it looks like a drought is imminent, then things change. It’s virtually impossible to know what the year will bring.

“We’ve pondered that question every year for the 21 years that I’ve been here,” Christensen said. There has never been a firm answer until the new water year is already underway.

The city of Lodi doesn’t waste time planning in advance for the whole season. Public Works Director Wally Sandelin says their efforts are based off of forecasts of individual storms. If a lot of wind and rain is on the way, the city has more workers ready to tackle fallen trees and clogged drains.

Janine Jones, interstate resources manager for the California Department of Water Resources, says there’s only one semi-reliable predictor to prep for a rainy season.

Changes in temperature on the Pacific Ocean give forecasters a general idea of how much rain to expect in different regions of California.

A weak El Niño event is predicted, said Jones. That could mean lots of rain for Northern California this season, but it might not.

Other oscillation patterns factor into the seasonal weather, too, pushing a firm prediction out of reach.

The October heat Lodi is feeling this week is coming in on the tail end of a dry year. Seventeen days of temperatures over 90 degrees within the past month is not as significant as it feels in the moment.

Jones was quick to point out that one dry year does not constitute a drought. A water shortage is considered a drought, when demand for water exceeds the supply.

“One dry year just means it didn’t rain. It’s not a drought until it starts hurting people. We’re not there yet,” she said.

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

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