July 2, 2014

Merced rainfall totals hit record low

The last year in Merced County was the driest ever in the county’s recorded history.

The last 12 months in Merced County were the driest in the county’s recorded history.

“Historically, it’s the worst that we’ve observed,” said Paul Iniguez, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

Between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, Merced County received just 4.97 inches of rain. The county typically gets about 12.5 inches of rain annually, according to weather service records.

Merced County rainfall data dates back to 1927, Iniguez said.

The previous driest year on record came during the 1976-77 rainfall season, when about 5.22 inches fell in Merced County, Iniguez said.

Merced Irrigation District records also confirm last year as the driest on record, reporting just 8.19 inches for the year at New Exchequer Dam, beating the previous record low set in 1976 by nearly two inches. Typically, rainfall recorded at the dam comes in at about 19.91 inches annually.

“This is the worst year on record for New Exchequer Dam,” MID spokesman Mike Jensen said. “This year ... sets a new record and represents just one more measurement in the severity of this drought.”

Amanda Carvajal, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, said farmers will likely lose a significant number of crops.

“I’m nervous; I think July is going to be a very bad month. I think crops are going to be tilled under,” she said. “Everyone is going to feel impacts. The cities are going to be hurt, too. Everyone is going to be hurt.”

Forecasters such as meteorologist Brian Ochs say the odds of the drought ending this next year are not good, “about one chance in three.”

“Right now, the best we can say is that we’re expecting a weak or maybe moderate El Niño event this winter, but we can’t be sure what impact it will have,” Ochs said. “It’s just too early to really pinpoint what will happen.”

MID farmers desperately need more rainfall this year after the irrigation district cut a one-time deal with the state to divert extra water from Lake McClure to help farmers get through the summer.

Typically, MID is forced to stop diverting water when the lake reaches 115,000 acre-feet of water, the so-called “minimum pool.” This year, the district was allowed to take the lake level down to 85,000 acre feet.

During typical years, MID sells about 300,000 acre-feet of water. Three consecutive years of drought conditions left the district with less than 100,000 acre-feet of water for this growing season. MID growers are receiving about 1.1 acre-feet of water per acre this year, which is nearly double original estimates for the year, but far below the 3-acre-foot per acre average.

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