San Luis Reservoir near history low

July 9, 2013 12:20:14 AM PDT
The San Luis Reservoir in Merced County is extremely low right now, and could be on track for the lowest level in its history by the end of the summer.

Officials say the lack of water will have a significant impact on agriculture across the Valley's Westside.

Anyone who drives past San Luis Reservoir or comes here to boat or fish can easily see how low the water has dropped. State officials say it is at just 20 percent of capacity. And that means many growers are facing yet another tough year.

One look at the San Luis reservoir reveals just how low the water level has dropped. Plants that should be below the surface and small islands that are not normally in the reservoir when water levels are higher are now visible. Officials with the California Department of Water Resources say the reservoir's capacity is more than 2 million acre feet of water, and right no it is at just over 400 thousand.

"At this point last year it was over 821,000 acre feet, so it's on track to be at record or near record lows," said Ted Thomas.

Experts say two factors are to blame. One is the lack of rain since December, and the other is pumping restrictions that took effect this winter. Officials estimate about 1 million acre feet of water was lost because of the effort to protect fish, including the Delta Smelt.

"Unfortunately water that would have gone to the reservoir for usage this time of year was allowed to flow out to the ocean to protect those fish species," said Gayle Holman from the Westlands Water District.

The San Luis Reservoir is not fed by any natural streams. It relies solely on pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. And it is the primary source of irrigation for 700 farms across the Westlands Water District. Gayle Holman says growers are now facing the possibility of a zero percent water allocation.

"our growers are struggling just to keep their operations going at 20 percent. To go lower than that is really something that's just unthinkable, and it would be extremely devastating not only to what growers produce but to our economy," Holman said.

State officials say the low level here will not affect the water that comes out of your faucet at home, and the reservoir is still open for recreation. Staff members at the visitor center San Luis Reservoir also tell me the reservoir is a bit of a spectacle right now, and they're seeing an increase in people stopping by to look at it.


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