Modest snow levels raise concerns

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 30, 2013 

After last year's dry winter, the lack of recent storms blowing through California has Merced irrigation officials somewhat anxious.

"We will be operating as if we're facing a dry year until things improve," said Tim Pellissier, Merced Irrigation District board president. "We're concerned.

"We have plenty of time to have a good year," Pellissier said. "Historically we've gotten a lot of our rain between February and April."

The Sierra snowpack — which valley farmers and cities rely on for water — has fallen below normal for this time of year, according to Department of Water Resources.

A month ago, Sierra snowpack was at 140 percent of the long-term average. However, after several early-season storms, a dry January has left conditions at 93 percent of average.

With just over an inch of rain this month, the snowpack in the central Sierra — which feeds the Merced River — stands at 91 percent of normal.

As of today, the MID reservoir at Lake McClure is at 444,000 acre-feet — about 88 percent of the 46-year average for this time of year.

In January last year, the reservoir had 662,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water covers one acre, one foot deep.

"We are still in a waiting mode," said Hicham Eltal, MID deputy general manager of water resources. "The water picture based on the reservoir, and the snowpack is not better than last year."

The local area could see precipitation next week, according to the National Weather Service in Hanford.

Tuesday through Wednesday night there's a 40 percent chance of precipitation in the central Sierra and a 30 percent chance of rain in the county.

However, Eltal said, recent predictions routinely have been off the mark. "This year everyone's had a hard time with the forecast. It's been an interesting year for everybody."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or

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