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Rainfall Hits 72% of Normal

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rainfall totals countywide are 72% of normal for the rain season that ends today , raising fears that Ventura County and the state may be headed toward another drought.

Although Thursday’s tropical storm dampened roads and lightly wetted crops, it did little to boost rainfall totals closer to the average 16.09 inches that the county receives each year, hydrologists said.

But the trace amounts that fell in Thousand Oaks were enough to prompt officials to close the Thousand Oaks Library for a short time Thursday morning.

The library’s roof, damaged in the January earthquake, is being rebuilt and the moisture leaked through plastic tarp placed atop the building, library Director Stephen R. Brogden said.

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While the skies cleared Thursday and forecasters called for continuing blue skies this weekend, hydrologists were assessing the end of the 1993-94 rain season.

Storage in reservoirs is sufficient to supply water demand in the coming year, hydrologists said. But a winter with little rain could force some county residents--particularly those in the east county--to renew efforts to save water, they said.

Whether residents may be asked to step up conservation will hinge on the amount of rain over the next six months, said Don Kendall, manager of the Thousand Oaks-based Calleguas Municipal Water District.

“This winter will determine if the county is heading toward another drought, or if residents will continue to enjoy plentiful reserves.”

That view was echoed by Jay Malinowski, spokesman for the giant Metropolitan Water District. MWD supplies about 75% of the water used in Ventura County through the Calleguas district, serving 500,000 customers in Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Camarillo and Oxnard.

“We are clearly at the whim of the weather,” Malinowski said. “Ventura County is slightly more vulnerable to water shortages because we don’t have as much flexibility in moving water there.”

While meteorologists say it is too early to predict how wet this winter will be, one forecaster had encouraging news.

Curtis Brack, a meteorologist with Weather Data Inc., said the Southern California region should get above-average rainfall through the end of October. And Northern California, the origin of most MWD water shipped to Ventura County, should get normal rainfall in the coming month, Brack said.

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Beyond October, however, the water outlook becomes less clear, hydrologists say.

“We live in a semi-arid area,” said Fred Royer, assistant general manager of the United Water Conservation District in Santa Paula. “We always have to be worried about our water supply.”

The official rain year begins Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30. The state Department of Water Resources set those dates in 1967 because October is generally when the year’s heaviest rains begin falling in California.

When averaged over the past 10 years, Ventura County has received 92% of normal rainfall. But year-to-year figures often whip wildly up and down.

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In the rainy season that ended in 1990, for instance, the county received just 35% of normal rainfall. Yet the next year, that figure leaped to 105% of normal, rising again in the 1991-92 year to 126% of normal.

But the wettest year was still to come, when the county recorded a whopping 178% of normal rainfall in the 1992-93 season. Those recent wet winters positioned Ventura County and the state to ride out this year’s dry spell relatively unscathed, water chiefs say.

Lake Casitas, which supplies water for 60,000 customers in Ventura and Ojai, is at about 90% of capacity, said John Johnson, manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District. And the United Water Conservation District has so much supply in Lake Piru that the district is releasing 30,000 acre-feet into the Santa Clara River over a two-month period, Royer said.

About 70% of that water is captured by the Freeman Diversion project in Oxnard, where it is funneled to spreading grounds that feed underground aquifers, Royer said. United serves Fillmore, Santa Paula, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, the two naval bases and part of Ventura.

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Reservoir levels are near capacity throughout the statewide water network as well, Malinowski said.

Still, Malinowski and other water czars are skittish when talking about the coming winter. Water supply and demand in California changes rapidly, they warn, mainly because the state has limited storage space.

And memories of the six-year drought, which ended in 1991, are still fresh in the minds of many hydrologists.

“Everyone is still in the drought-watch mode,” Kendall said.

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While MWD has guaranteed water deliveries to meet east county customers’ needs in the coming year, that position could change the following year if the state experiences a dry winter, Malinowski said.

Calleguas customers could be the first affected by water shortages because the east county is one of a few areas statewide that relies exclusively on water delivered through the State Water Project, Malinowski said.

Other MWD regions also receive water from the Colorado River, which tends to be a more stable source, he said.

“I think we’re going to be OK in the coming year,” Malinowski said. “But if the winter is dry, Ventura County customers could face more conservation.”

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Calleguas, like many other water providers in Ventura County, advises customers to voluntarily reduce usage by 10%. Many residents have continued to follow that advice, even after two winters with drought-busting rains, Kendall said.

“It looks like people still have drought memory,” he said.

Annual Rainfall

Ventura County receives an average of 16.09 inches of rain annually. The rain season begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30. Averages reflect rain at the County Government Center in Ventura.

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Inches of % of Year rainfall normal 1984-85 11.84 73% 1985-86 25.15 156% 1986-87 7.50 47% 1987-88 13.22 82% 1988-89 8.23 51% 1989-90 5.62 35% 1990-91 16.92 105% 1991-92 20.34 126% 1992-93 28.76 178% 1993-94 11.29 72%

Source: Ventura County Flood Control District

County Rainfall

Ventura County’s rainfall was 72% of normal for the last 12 months. The new rainfall year starts Saturday.

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Inches of Percent rainfall of normal Location since Oct. 1 to date Camarillo 10.22 77% Casitas Dam 15.66 67% El Rio 11.28 75% Fillmore 12.61 67% Moorpark 10.56 72% Ojai 13.52 63% Upper Ojai 15.30 65% Oxnard 11.86 81% Piru 10.38 60% Santa Paula 13.35 76% Simi Valley 10.43 72% Thousand Oaks 9.45 61% County

Govt. Center11.6872%Source: Ventura County Flood Control District


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