The San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos is a visible reminder of California's drought. It's a key source of irrigation water for the Valley's westside that should be at its highest level this time of the year. In fact, it was full in March of 2011. But it's dropped steadily over the past three years, and is now at just 42 percent of capacity. Lake McClure, near Snelling, is also extremely low.
Mike Jensen with the Merced Irrigation District Spokesperson said, "We would typically by this time in March get 346,000 acre feet coming into the lake form the river, and we're at about 31,000 acre feet."
This picture provided by the Merced Irrigation District shows the current water level in dark blue. The light blue area shows where the water should be. MID owns the reservoir and uses it to provide water to about 100-thousand acres of farmland. The district's growers are now being asked to approve an increase that would more than quadruple their rates, and that's not all.
"The board has authorized a shorter season that will begin in April and we're expecting it to go until sometime in august, and we'll take lake McClure, our storage reservoir down as low as we possibly can this year, and it's going to equate to mere inches of water for our growers, unfortunately."
MID also uses Lake Yosemite near UC Merced as part of its irrigation system. It will only be filled up higher during the shortened irrigation season, which could impact some recreational activities -- including the seasonal sailboat races.
Lake Yosemite Sailing Assoc. Member Darrell Sorensen said, "This year they'll end sooner and also the water level will be fluctuating more, which makes it a little harder on our big boats in their slips out on the docks."
MID officials say the rain and snow that are expected this week won't make a noticeable difference, but Darrell Sorensen still welcomes it.
Sorensen added, "It could rain for a whole month as far as I'm concerned."
Of course, the problems are not just in the North Valley -- most of the major reservoirs across the state are at less than half their capacity right now. Exchequer and Pine Flat are the worst at just over 20 percent.