Storms during the past week added lots of water to local creeks and kept local residents wet, but state and federal water officials say it still could be a dry year for farmers.
A federal court ruling this past summer regarding the threatened Delta smelt could mean water curtailments for irrigation districts.
In the meantime, farm water officials say they are happy with any rain they can get.
"We’re liking this wet weather," said Bill Harrison, manager of the Patterson-based Del Puerto Water District, which serves about 45,000 acres of farmland between Vernalis and Santa Nella.
Del Puerto Water District and several other irrigation districts south of Tracy get water from the Central Valley Project, a series of conveyance systems and reservoirs that transports water to cities and farms throughout the state.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated earlier this month that contractors south of the Delta would only receive 25 percent of their normal allocations if the 2007-08 rainy season was a critically dry one, but that was before the recent storms hit.
"What you see there (in the early estimates) is even worse than the worst-case scenario," said Jeff McCracken, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
He said the bureau will have an updated estimate Feb. 15.
In the meantime, he said rainfall near Redding is particularly helpful, as the nearby Shasta Dam feeds into the Central Valley Project.
More rain in this area also can help the San Joaquin River, and Old and Middle rivers that it feeds north of Tracy, which are near state and federal water pumps.
A federal court ruling last year led to tightened restrictions on pumping after U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger rejected a federal wildlife "biological opinion" that had allowed increased pumping for federal water contractors south of the Delta based on the belief that the pumping did not harm smelt.
More water in the San Joaquin River could lead federal criteria to be lowered for water levels in Old and Middle rivers. However, McCracken said other factors also are involved, such as where smelt are in relation to the pumps.
Environmentalists say the smelt is a major indicator of the San Joaquin Delta’s health, and a crash in smelt numbers now mirror a just-reported sharp decline in the number of salmon that run up the Mokelumne River.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also estimated this month that water contractors south of the Delta could get as much as 55 percent to 65 percent allocations under a best-case scenario, though that also could change.
Harrison said the recent rainfall is good news, noting that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation allowed federal pumping to increase Monday as a result.
"The storms are helping," he said.