Le Grand farmer Bob Giampaoli needs some rain. A lot of rain and soon.
With water levels approaching near-historic lows at Lake McClure and everywhere else in California Giampaoli said hes extremely concerned about his crops this year. Its very serious now and a lot of us are very worried, Giampaoli said Friday. Theres still a little time, maybe a few weeks or a month or so, for things to turn around. So, Im just praying for rain like everybody else.
Giampaoli, 52, grows tomatoes, bell peppers, alfalfa, corn and almonds and has been a farmer for more than 35 years. Hes also vice president of the Merced County Farm Bureau. This is definitely the worst dry season that Ive experienced, he said.
If the situation doesnt turn around quickly, Giampaoli said, he will have to focus on protecting his permanent crops first, possibly at the expense of other crops, and may consider not developing new ground.
According to the National Weather Service in Hanford, Merced County last received a measurable amount of rain on Dec. 7 and has seen about 1 inch of total rainfall since July 1. Merced County typically averages nearly 5 inches of rainfall during that period.
Its much, much drier than normal, meteorologist David Spector said. Theres a persistent ridge of high pressure thats been near the coast at times or directly over us thats being blocked in by arctic air in the eastern part of the country and thats keeping the storm track well north of us.
Spector said theres not really any rain in sight in the near future, either. There are some indications that the pattern could possibly change in the next 10 days or two weeks, but its too far out to know for sure or to know how much precipitation, if any, may come, he said.
Merced Irrigation District officials are worried about the coming growing season. Coming off two dry years in a row, this is the driest year maybe ever, as far as Im concerned, said John Sweigard, MIDs general manager.
The driest year on record is the 1976-77 season, according to Hicham Eltal, MIDs deputy general manager.
From October to December in 1976, about 6,414 acre-feet of water flowed into Lake McClure. During the same time period this year, the lake has received just 5,563 acre-feet of water, according to MID.
Last week, the state Department of Water Resources reported the states snowpack level is just 20 percent of the normal average and estimated being able to deliver just 5 percent of State Water Project water requested for the year.
Sweigard said demand for water has increased dramatically since the late 1970s. There are more people in agriculture now, more regulations for environmental needs, Sweigard said.
Like many irrigation districts, MID officials are drafting letters to state and federal officials to request certain environmental standards be relaxed, at least temporarily, to allow districts more flexibility with available water resources.
Gov. Jerry Browns recently formed drought task force met Thursday and plans to meet again this week to discuss a possible emergency drought declaration, according to Nancy Vogel, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources. Were anticipating that, if theres no large amount of rain soon, we will make the recommendation to the governors office for a drought declaration, she said. Were moving on the assumption that making that recommendation will be necessary.
Specifics of such a declaration remain under discussion and it is still unclear exactly how much it would help.
Even an emergency drought declaration wont create more water, Vogel said.
Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 385-2482.