MID: Water status at average

For all their bluster, the storms of the past week merely brought the water supply up to average for the Modesto Irrigation District.

But average is welcome at this point for district officials, who have worried that 2008 might be a dry year.

"This is a great start for us," said Walt Ward, the MID's assistant general manager for water operations, at Tuesday's board meeting. "The issue now for us is that (the snowpack) stays put and we don't have a warming period."

The National Weather Service forecast a continued chance of snow at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada today and Thursday. In the foothills and San Joaquin Valley, rain is possible both days.

Tuesday, downtown Modesto received 0.17 inches, according to the MID, bringing the monthly total to 2.8 inches.

Water users all over California will benefit from the storms, which made up for below- average rain and snow in the first two months of the wet season.

The storms also will boost the supply of hydroelectric power, which generally is cheaper for ratepayers than power gener- ated from natural gas and other sources.

In the Tuolumne River watershed, tapped by the MID and the Turlock Irrigation District, the snowpack was about 100 percent of average as of Tuesday morning, Ward said. That was before another storm moved in later in the day.

Ward said the snow was as deep as 13 feet at Horse Meadow, which has an elevation of 8,400 feet above sea level, in the Emigrant Wilderness.

The California Department of Water Resources estimated the statewide snowpack was at 111 percent of average before Tuesday's storm.

Rain in the Modesto area was close to half the annual average of 13.12 inches as of Tuesday. The wet season typically goes into April.

Rain on the valley floor is a small part of what farmers use in the MID and other irrigation districts. The vast majority is Sierra snowmelt.

But the valley rain does moisten the soil, delaying the time when farmers will need water from the canals.

"Everybody's well-irrigated out there on the farms," MID Director John Kidd said Tuesday. "That was a valuable rain. You couldn't order it much better."

More rain is expected this week. Forecasters predict partly cloudy conditions today with a chance of rain Thursday before the weather becomes mostly sunny through the weekend.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.