But Mother Nature has provided plenty to keep local farmers happy so far this rainy season — roughly November to May — and has packed more than usual away for the summer months.
As of Thursday, Jan. 3, Tracy had received 6.18 inches of rain since July 1, according to a rain gauge on the roof of the Tracy Press at A and 10th streets downtown.
That compares to 1.6 inches at this point last season, and a total of 4.61 inches between July 2011 and June 2012.
Normally, there’s enough local rain that farmers don’t have to water until well into March, though dry conditions in 2012 meant many farmers in the Tracy area irrigated fields as early as January.
David Weisenberger, general manager of the Banta Carbona Irrigation District since 1997, said on Wednesday, Jan. 2, that he hadn’t had one request for water since Veterans Day.
“I haven’t heard anything, which means things are good,” he said.
Early reports from the Sierra Nevada are also encouraging.
Electronic and manual readings taken by the Department of Water Resources on Wednesday at Echo Summit south of Lake Tahoe show the snowpack is at 134 percent of normal.
The department measures the snow by weight for its water content, rather than simple depth. The snowpack holds water until later in the year, when it melts and fills rivers and reservoirs.
A year earlier, the snowpack was 19 percent of its to-date average — one of the driest seasons on record.
The better-than-typical reading is good news for farmers east of Tracy who rely on water from rivers that drain into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, farmers to the north who rely on the Delta itself, and farmers south and west who use water pumped from the Delta via the Delta-Mendota Canal.
Bill Harrison is general manager of the Del Puerto Water District, which provides water for about 45,000 acres of farmland south of Tracy.
He’s pleased with the large snowpack but is uncertain what it means for local growers.
“It’s a good start to a good water year,” Harrison said. “We’re hoping that it continues, and we’re hoping to take advantage of good precipitation for farmers over here on the West Side (of the San Joaquin Valley). At the same time, we continue to have concerns about constraints to our water supply.”
Many farmers who rely on water from the Delta-Mendota Canal typically receive less than 100 percent of what their contracts call for, even in normal rainfall years.
Harrison said the Del Puerto and other Delta-Mendota-dependent districts received only 40 percent of their allocated water last year, thanks largely to a lack of rain and snow.
But environmental restrictions on how much water can be taken from the Delta also crimp the supply of farmers who rely on the canal. For nearly two decades, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has sought to protect the Delta smelt, a small endangered fish that scientists say is an indicator of the overall health of the Delta.
Harrison said those restrictions could present challenges to some farmers even if the weather remains wet.
“I think we’ll be surprised, given how wet we’re starting out ... how little (allocations) will turn out, given the constraints that are in place,” Harrison said.
And, cautioned Wiesenberger, there’s no guarantee the rain season will finish as it began.
“It’s a great start, but if things shut off now, the whole world changes over the next two or three months,” he said. “Let’s just hope things keep going.”
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Jonathan Partridge contributed to this report.