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Water level rise at Don Pedro not cause for concern, authorities say

Those who have been keeping an eye on the numbers at Don Pedro Reservoir the last couple of days might have noticed something that seems troubling: since officials opened a spillway to release water, the level actually has been rising.

Turlock Irrigation District officials are required to open the spillway when the water level at Don Pedro reaches 830 elevation. Monday afternoon, just after the spillway opened, the water surface elevation at Don Pedro was 826.54 feet. On Wednesday at 11 a.m., it measured 829.7 feet.

But that was expected, TID spokesman Herb Smart said.

“It isn’t concerning to us,” he said. “We modeled a lot of our operations numbers to get to that number.”

What’s important, he said, is that the number doesn’t go higher. And with a few dry days ahead in the forecast, officials believe it will start to go down.

As of Wednesday afternoon, TID still was waiting to hear on a petition it had submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep the spillway open nine days rather than the four originally planned.

“We’d rather continue flows at this level as opposed to closing the gates,” Smart said. The idea is to get the level of Don Pedro down to 815 feet, which officials believe would accommodate spring runoff. And there will be a lot of that runoff; the National Weather Service said Wednesday that the snow water content statewide is 188 percent of average for this time of year.

In the meantime, emergency responders are keeping an eye on the area’s waterways as levels continue to rise. Wednesday afternoon, the Tuolumne River through Modesto measured at nearly 59 feet, or close to 4 feet above flood stage.

Dairy farmers along the Tuolumne west of Modesto have moved about 2,000 cows to other farmers’ operations under an effort organized by Western United Dairymen. The cows need to be milked daily, so they cannot just wait out the emergency.

“We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of volunteers to haul cows,” said Anja Raudabaugh, chief executive officer at the Modesto-based group. “It’s been a great community effort.”

The number could rise with the storm forecast for the weekend, she said. In the far larger flood of 1997, about 3,500 cows were moved.

Milk is Stanislaus County’s top-grossing farm product. No. 2 is almonds, which are in their crucial pollination period amid the storms.

The moisture could make the orchards susceptible to disease, said Milton O’Haire, agricultural commissioner for the county, and growers will look for breaks in the rain to spray the trees.

Several roads throughout the area remained closed; on Wednesday, the new closures included River Road at the Seventh Street bridge near downtown Modesto.

The south end of South Santa Cruz Avenue past Hillside Drive was under water Wednesday morning.

Yellow caution tape was posted across the road at Hillside Drive and Trenary Way as South Santa Cruz entered into Legion Park.

As emergency crews and law enforcement, along with a dozen or so people, looked at the amazing sight, one man in a chair at the front of the home on elevated property said he was not worried. A woman nearby expressed concern.

The water caused more concern as it headed out of town; authorities are closely monitoring the San Joaquin River, which the Tuolumne feeds into west of Modesto. Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service expanded a flash flood watch to include the area around Grayson. In San Joaquin County, the Office of Emergency Services launched a web page with information specific to the incident as teams monitored levees and worked to close any boils they found.

Dale Skiles, Stanislaus County fire warden, said the projections are that the Tuolumne River in Modesto has flatlined and will remain at its current level through Monday.

County public works and property owners have shifted concern to the San Joaquin River, from its junction with the Tuolumne to the north county line. The San Joaquin near Vernalis is expected to keep rising to a peak of 31 feet Friday and then remain there “for quite some time,” Skiles said.

The National Weather Service predicts the San Joaquin will hit 31.1 feet around 7 a.m. Friday.

“A lot of farmland is being inundated and some structures,” Skiles said.

At about 3 p.m. Wednesday, a private levee was jeopardized south of Highway 132, on the east side of the San Joaquin and was expected to flood river bottom land.

Bee Staff Writers Ken Carlson and John Holland contributed to this report.

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