What dry January means for Central California farmers

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Tuesday, February 1, 2022
What dry January means for Central California farmers
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A series of storms back in December created beautiful scenes high in the Sierra, but a dry January now has water officials and farmers concerned.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The snowpack which feeds into Pine Flat Dam is a healthy one.

It's a little above average at this point, according to the first snow survey of the season conducted by the Kings River Water Association.

"What we're told is this is the kind of year, the kind of weather pattern where we get wet sequences followed by extended dry sequences and that's exactly what we've seen this season," says Kings River Watermaster Steve Haugen.

Haugen was encouraged by the early storms but knew the water outlook can drastically change before the snowpack hits its peak April 1, especially if temperatures continue to warm.

"We've had bright sunny days," he said. "We've had no precip, no cloud cover. You do get some evaporation off of the snowpack, which takes away from potential water supply this spring."

Valley farmers constantly dealing with drought conditions continue to make cropping decisions based on how much water they may have available.

Even when the skies opened up last month, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen wasn't confident more storms would head our way.

"I was very concerned of what could come at the first of the year and we've seen that," he said. "It's dried up. This is very similar to what we saw during the historic drought back in 2015-16 and it's just concerning going forward because there's not a lot of activity in the next several weeks."

Irrigation allocations aren't expected to change much at this point.

Jacobsen worries we could be entering a third year of drought but he holds out hope.

"Right now, the long-term forecast going out 15 days doesn't look good for us at all," he said. "But as we know, typically when blossoms bloom, we typically get some storms rolling through. There is maybe some optimism as we go towards the end of the month."

Haugen adds at least we're in better shape than we were a year ago.

Haugen added, at this point, there is enough of a snowpack behind Pine Flat to deliver 40-50% runoff this season.

Obviously, communities and farmers would like to see that figure much higher