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Thus far, February has been the driest month in California history.

“Future weather holds the key to how our water supply will turn out for the season, and, so far, this winter we have had very little rain and snow in the mountains.”  — FID General Manager Bill Stretch

Typically, February is the peak of the state’s wet season. But, as the National Weather Service in Hanford reported last week, there has been no significant precipitation in the Sierra Nevada since Jan. 26.

“This hasn’t happened in 150 years or more,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “There have even been a couple wildfires — which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter.”

These dry conditions and predictions of a below-average snowpack have forced the Fresno Irrigation District to postpone the start of its 2020 water deliveries. The district instead will wait until mid-March to decide when to start releasing water.

“Future weather holds the key to how our water supply will turn out for the season, and, so far, this winter we have had very little rain and snow in the mountains,”  FID General Manager Bill Stretch said in a statement Friday.

Impacts on Growers

What does this mean for FID farmers?

“For permanent crops, they’ll have to utilize groundwater until surface supplies are available,” said Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen, who is an FID board member. “On a year like this, you want to hold on until the summer months during the peak growing season.

“Right now, it’s not looking overly promising. But we do have some carryover from 2019, an exceptionally wet year, and that will help boost the minimal allocations we’re likely to see if things don’t change.”

Kings River Runoff Predicted at 58%

The dry outlook was reinforced by the California Department of Water Resources’ updated April through July runoff forecast. Assuming average amounts of precipitation fall during the remainder
of the season, DWR predicts the Kings River’s runoff will be about 58% of normal.

And, while the Bureau of Reclamation has not made an official allocation on the Friant system, FID is anticipating allocations of 25% to 40% percent for Class I contractors and no water for Class II contracts.

There is a bit of good news on the horizon. The National Weather Service in Hanford is forecasting light rain on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley and some snow for the Sierra on Saturday.

Snowpack Is Half of Average

California’s dry February put the brakes on what had been looking to be a wet year. In January, the statewide snowpack was 90% of its historical average. Now, it’s at just 52% of the average.

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