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Inching Toward Normal : Weather: A meteorologist says more storms are lining up behind one expected Wednesday. The Freeman diversion dam is operating at full capacity.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A series of weekend storms that dropped three to five inches of rain brought rainfall totals in Ventura County to near normal for the past three months and sent rivers flowing to the ocean for the first time since March.

The storms also left up to three feet of snow in the Ventura County backcountry, trapping a pair of Kern County cross-country skiers in the Mt. Pinos area. The skiers, who were airlifted out Monday morning, were reported in good condition after a night in the snow.

A break in the wet weather was expected today, but another storm with at least an inch of rain is expected to hit the county on New Year’s Day during the afternoon or evening, said Terry Schaeffer, National Weather Service meteorologist in Santa Paula.

Schaeffer said Wednesday’s expected storm could bring more significant rainfall, probably another inch or more. Still another set of storms is lining up over the Pacific Ocean behind the front that is expected Wednesday, he said.

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“It looks like we’re into a wet period,” he said.

The series of storms that began Friday evening brought the first heavy rainfall of the rain season, which officially began Oct. 1, and the first significant downpour since the so-called March Miracle that brought more than 12 inches of rain to much of the drought-parched county.

The inclement weather caused a series of power failures and accidents, including one that claimed the life of an Oxnard man Saturday night and another that involved four cars.

The weekend storms dropped more than five inches of rain in the Upper Ojai, the wettest part of the county, but left only a little more than two inches at Port Hueneme.

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Nearly four inches soaked into the agriculturally rich Oxnard Plain, and the citrus and avocado groves in the Santa Clara River Valley received more than four inches.

The Freeman diversion dam on the Santa Clara River began operating at full capacity early Monday and was expected to continue capturing 750 acre-feet of water a day for the next two to three days.

“The Freeman is spilling over the top,” said Kari White, a district spokeswoman.

Once diverted, the water is used to replenish the county’s underground water basins, which had reached record low levels as the county moved into its sixth year of drought.

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Also, she said, the level of the district’s reservoir at Lake Piru rose 1,000 acre-feet. Lake Casitas rose by 750 acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough to supply a family of five for one year.

Some localized street flooding was reported and county roads were closed intermittently due to accidents and standing water, but the county’s creeks and channels were able to hold the flow despite periods of heavy rainfall, said Dolores Taylor, county engineer.

“The only areas that look close to saturation are the paved areas like Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley,” Taylor said.

Because the drought has left the soils so dry, most of the rain that has fallen so far will soak into the ground. Because of the five previous years of drought, the county still needs 29.71 inches this year to reach normal levels in underground basins, she said.

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But now that the soil is wet, rain from the next storm will percolate down to the underground water supply, said John Turner, the county’s ground-water hydrologist.

“This rain kind of prepares us for the rest of the year,” he said. “It also stops pumping of underground water for agricultural use.” That could save thousands of acre-feet of water, he said.

Despite the cheerful picture in Ventura County, officials at the state Drought Information Center in Sacramento said the recent storms spent most of their power over Southern California and did little to help the state’s overall drought condition.

“We wish we had your five inches up here,” said Dean Thompson, a Drought Center spokesman. Rain and snow in Northern California fill the state’s huge reservoir system as snow melts in the spring off the giant Sierras. More than half the residents of Ventura County receive all or a part of their supplies from water supplied by the state from Northern California.

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The state’s snowpack is now only about 50% of normal, Thompson said.

“We are still considering this the sixth year of drought,” he said. “So far, there is nothing foreseeable that will pull us out of it. All we can do is hope we get some rain to soften the impact.”

RELATED STORIES: A1, B6

Ventura County Rainfall

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As of 8 a.m. Monday; includes totals since Oct. 1, the official start of the rain year.

Since Normal Location Friday Since Oct. 1 from Oct. 1 Camarillo 3.19 4.02 4.25 Casitas Dam 4.58 5.70 6.96 Fillmore 4.24 5.01 6.05 Moorpark 3.66 4.38 4.40 Ojai N/A N/A N/A Upper Ojai 5.24 6.37 6.46 Oxnard 3.85 4.59 4.17 Port Hueneme 2.20 2.83 4.19 Santa Paula N/A N/A N/A Simi Valley 3.75 4.61 4.17 Ventura Gov Center 3.28 5.39 4.63 Thousand Oaks 4.16 4.92 4.44

Source: Ventura County Flood Control District


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