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Water Worries in Northern California

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NEAR MONTAGUE, Calif. — Sunny skies and warm temperatures are great for picnics but many people in Siskiyou County say the weather could be bad news for crops later this summer. That’s because reservoirs are low and mountain snow packs barely half of normal. The dry spring also means more water is needed to get the irrigation season started.

Sprinklers are sprinkling and irrigation canals are flowing with water for this summer’s alfalfa and grain crops in the Shasta Valley of Siskiyou County. South of Montague, Lake Shastina sparkles in the sunshine, but with only about half the water it needs to be considered full pool. And that’s bad news for irrigators in central Siskiyou County.

“We don’t have a lot less in the lake than we had last year, but it’s been such a dry spring that they had to irrigate earlier and it’s taking more water,” explained Stan Sears, the Montague Water District Chairman. “Because we had the driest January and February in California in history.”

Sears says except for an inch Easter week, it’s been dry since. For hundreds of Shasta Valley residents the waters in Shastina Lake are the primary source of irrigation for farms and ranches. Although the water is not going to be enough to go all summer long, irrigation officials say that they’ll supply every bit they can for as long as it lasts.

“When the crop’s growing you have to supply the water when it needs it and not stretch it out. Better to irrigate less ground and do it right. You’ll produce more than you will, uh, given a half irrigation to everything you own. You won’t raise anything hardly. It’s better to stay right with it till you run out,” Sears says.

Sears also says they’re all hoping and praying for a wet may that would be a May miracle, and help stretch the limited water supplies a little longer. Last year, Lake Shastina started the season at a little over 30,000 acre feet of water, but late spring rains added more than 5,000 acre feet. Today, the lake is about 9,000 feet lower than this time last year.