Despite El Nino, Calif. farmers brace for water shortage

Associated Press


Farmers in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley are bracing to receive no irrigation water from a federal system of reservoirs and canals for a third-consecutive year and looking to El Nino to produce the very wet winter they need.

The year kicked off with heavy rains and an above-average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. The El Nino – a global weather system associated with wet winters in California – may play out nationwide through late spring or beyond, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say.

Another welcome series of storms is expected to dump more rain and snow on California through Thursday, according to National Weather Service forecasters.

Though many are celebrating a break in the long dry spell, the four driest years on record for California have left their mark, and experts say it will take time for the parched state to recover.

State water managers say California’s snowpack needs to be at 150 percent of normal on April 1 to signal an end to drought.

Friday it was at 110 percent, according to the Department of Water Resources’ statewide electronic reading.

Lake Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, remains at half of its historical average for this time of year.

Other major reservoirs in Oroville and Folsom that collect and store rain and snowmelt had reached or came close to historically low levels before the winter storms hit.

The lack of surface-water supplies for irrigation during the drought has forced many farmers to use groundwater to keep their crops alive, drawing down wells and leading many to run dry.

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