Stockton’s New Melones water in jeopardy?

No surprise here, but the federal government is warning that the Stockton area might not receive all of its contracted water from New Melones Lake this year.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said as much in a late December letter to the Stockton East Water District. And as we all know, things have only gotten worse in January.

The bureau warned Stockton East that “there may be insufficient water supplies from the Stanislaus River and New Melones Reservoir to meet the full needs of the senior water rights holders and Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District.”

And that’s a problem for Stockton East, which is at the bottom of that pecking order.

Stockton East and Central San Joaquin together are contractually entitled to 155,000 acre-feet of water from New Melones, but the senior water-right holders South San Joaquin and Oakdale irrigation districts get their water first, and Central gets its share before Stockton East.

Last year, Stockton East officials were pleasantly surprised to receive a 55 percent allotment. We’ll find out in February, most likely, what’s in store this year. But it doesn’t bode well that New Melones is 39 percent of normal, far worse than any other major reservoir in California.

Less water from New Melones means Stockton must either:

• Take more from the Calaveras River, where New Hogan Lake is 38 percent of normal;

• Take more from the Delta, which could be problematic if there’s not enough flow to push back saltwater from San Francisco Bay; or

• Pump up more from below ground, possibly jeopardizing improvements in groundwater levels beneath Stockton in recent years.

Meanwhile, Stockton is on pace for its driest January on record, high temperatures are climbing into the 60s and there’s not a hint of rain in sight.

This is not good.

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