MODESTO -- Irrigation could get off to a relatively early start because of the mostly dry weather this winter.
The Modesto Irrigation District plans to begin deliveries March 5, rather than the typical mid-March start, spokeswoman Melissa Williams said Wednesday.
"The rain (Tuesday) was certainly welcomed, but it wasn't enough to adjust our plans," she said.
The Turlock Irrigation District board will hold a Feb. 26 discussion on when to start the season, spokeswoman Michelle Reimers said.
The Oakdale Irrigation District will discuss the same matter March 5, General Manager Steve Knell said. Winter maintenance on the empty canals is expected to be finished two days later, he said.
The storm season, mainly November through March, started out strong. The MID recorded 6.5 inches of rain in downtown Modesto by the end of December, more than half the average annual total of 12.2 inches.
Since then, rainfall has been just 1.84 inches, bringing the total to 8.34. That includes 0.43 inches Tuesday.
The dry spell slowed the buildup of snow in the central Sierra Nevada, the main water source for the Northern San Joaquin Valley. It was well above average in late December but slipped to 71 percent of average as of Tuesday, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
The latest figure was reported in the midst of Tuesday's storm, which brought snow down to the foothills.
Water storage helps ease the impact of the dry weather. As of Wednesday, Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River was at 99 percent of its historical average for the date, according to the state. New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River was at 113 percent.
Storms in late winter or early spring help in two ways: They reduce the amount of canal water needed to keep farm soil moist, and they top off the snowpack that gets the valley through the mostly rainless stretch from May to October.
Dry days in mid- and late February have one advantage: They encourage honey bees to pollinate the valley's vast acreage of almond trees.
The bloom is just getting started, according to Blue Diamond Growers, the world's largest almond processor. The rain and cold Tuesday kept the bees in their boxes, but they can get back to work as mild weather returns.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
Farmers in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts can hear about the 2013 water supply, and longer- term issues involving their use of the Tuolumne River, at upcoming meetings. All are at 7 p.m.
March 4, district office, 1231 11th St., Modesto
March 6, Waterford Community Center, 540 C St.
Monday, Chatom School, 7201 Clayton Road, west of Turlock
Tuesday, Hilmar Community Center, 20079 Falke St.
Wednesday, Westport Fire Station, 5160 S. Carpenter Road, southwest of Ceres
Thursday, TID branch office, 2944 Third St., Ceres
March 4, district boardroom, 333 E. Canal Drive, Turlock.