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Area Farmers Reap Benefits of Wet Weather

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Pacific storm dropped some rain across an already soggy Ventura County on Monday, and forecasters say that as much as an inch or more could fall in some areas by today, with chances of more showers continuing through the week.

Rainfall totals of double or even triple normal levels have been a boon to local farmers, although unseasonably high temperatures have them taking measures to ensure the crops don’t rot in the fields.

Prolonged periods of rain can damage crops, but agriculture officials noted that this year’s rains have been tempered by periods of dryness. That scenario was good news for area growers.

“So far we’ve been in pretty good shape. The rains have come far enough apart that there hasn’t been any real damage,” said county Agricultural Commissioner Earl McPhail.

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“If it keeps up like this, we should do pretty well,” he said.

Celery and navel oranges are among the crops at their peak now, with no impact from the weather patterns, McPhail said. However, some lemon growers have reported rain-related damage.

“The fruit stays wet too long and it develops brown rot,” McPhail said. “Most of the time, if the growers can get the fungicide on quick enough, it’s not too much of a problem.”

The county’s strawberry crop, which is harvested starting in late January, is also in good shape, McPhail said.

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Farmers spent the last few weeks clearing drainage ditches in preparation for heavy rains. Mike Mobley, a ranch consultant from Ventura, recently cleared the ditches around a citrus orchard he oversees in Santa Paula.

“Hillsides are especially vulnerable to erosion, and we have to make sure drains are flowing and the openings are clear,” Mobley said. “Heavy, heavy rain tends to move the leaves and the dead wood that’s just sitting in place now. They block our drain openings and then we really have a problem.”

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One of the good things about all the fresh rainwater is that it leaches salt from the soil, which means a larger, fresher crop, Mobley said. Avocados in particular benefit greatly from the downpour, he said.

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“There’s no comparison between rain versus irrigation. The trees seem to do so much better, and it helps with the size of the fruit,” Mobley said.

Mobley said Santa Paula has received more than 14 inches of rain since the rain year began Oct. 1, nearly triple the normal total of 5 inches for this point in the season. And while each downpour brings a threat of flooding and hillside damage, the weather systems have kept temperatures higher, meaning growers have not had to deal with the nightmare of overnight freezing.

“We’re far enough south that when it’s raining we don’t need to worry about cold. The clouds are just like a blanket and rain is just like an insulator,” he said.

The relatively warm weather has meant growers have not had to haul out wind machines and orchard heaters. And such measures probably won’t be necessary any time soon.

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What growers need to concentrate on now, Mobley said, is applying the fungicide soon enough to prevent brown rot.

“The rain is great,” Mobley said. “We’ll certainly take all mother nature can give us. As long as it’s not flood stage.”

But others weren’t so happy about the gray skies.

Moorpark rancher Bill La Perch was among many people still recovering from the rains and fierce Santa Ana winds that lashed the county earlier this month. La Perch lost hunks of his barn roof to the wind two weeks ago as strong gusts ripped through the hills north of town. With rain-gray clouds drifting over the area Monday, La Perch still hadn’t repaired the roof.

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The area, he said, has had enough rain.

“I think I’ll be having beachfront property pretty soon, instead of property on a hill,” La Perch said.

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Other buildings weathered the recent storms better. Kathleen Sullivan, collection manager with the Thousand Oaks Library, said that before the library’s recent renovation, the roof leaked badly during serious storms.

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Repair work finished in October, and the building--stuffed with about 350,000 books, tapes, puppets and other items easily damaged by water--has been almost leak-free.

“I can’t say we’re completely rain-proof yet, but the rainstorms are hard on any roof,” Sullivan said. “Compared to the way it was, it’s night and day.”

The National Weather Service is predicting rain through the end of the week. A flood watch for areas north of Ventura burned in a recent fire was issued early Monday morning, as forecasters were expecting as much as 3 inches of rain to fall in the hillside areas, according to Bruce Rockwell, a weather specialist in Oxnard. That watch was canceled Monday afternoon.

“It’s less of a storm and more of a rainy pattern,” said Rockwell, explaining the system that was slowly making its way south. “It’s a big glob of moisture making its way in from the central Pacific.”

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As of Monday evening, the rains had not caused any damage in Ventura County, officials said. The hillsides were intact, there had been no crop losses and no flooding.

Ventura Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Rennie said the burn areas of Ventura have been seeded, and the new growth appears to be keeping the soil in place.

“I did a preliminary check and the burn areas don’t seem to be a problem,” Rennie said.

The Ventura County Fire Department issued guidelines for people in flood-prone areas. Spokeswoman Sandi Wells said any flowing waters should be avoided at all costs. “These are deceptively dangerous and have led to loss of life.”

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Runoff can be treacherous for cars as well, she said, adding that drivers should not cross roads or other areas of flowing water--the depth is difficult to judge and may be too deep to cross safely.

To keep rain from causing damage at home, Wells recommends the following:

*Remove debris from rain gutters and roofs.

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*Keep outside drains clear so the water does not back up into the house.

*If your property is prone to flooding, sandbag early before the rain falls.

With rain falling in Ojai Monday afternoon, 13-year-old Tristyne White was getting a warm, dry spot ready for her 3-week-old Holstein bull calf Paco Del Taco. A member of the Mira Monte 4-H Club, Tristyne is raising the calf to be sold at the Santa Barbara Expo in May. Even though he might wind up in someone’s taco following the sale, Tristyne is doing her best to keep Paco out of the wet weather.

“They’ll catch pneumonia just like a person,” said Tristyne. “If I don’t keep him warm, he’ll get real sick.”

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Paco took shelter in a small barn with plywood siding, a night light and a straw floor, built by Tristyne’s father, Kevin.

As the potential for heavy rain eased a little bit Monday, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department chose not to place helicopter rescue crews on alert. During intense storms, the department keeps helicopters on landing pads in Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, fueled and ready to transport divers trained in water rescues.

“It’s a sit-and-wait type of thing,” said Capt. Mike Lewis, who heads the department’s Moorpark division. “They’re there, ready to go. With a call, they crank it up, and they’re airborne.”

Times correspondent David Baker contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Rainfall

Here are rainfall figures from the Ventura County Flood Control Department for the 24-hour period ending at 6 p.m. Monday . Oct. 1 is the beginning of the official rain year.

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Rainfall Rainfall Normal rainfall Location last 24 hours since Oct. 1 to date Camarillo 0.04 7.85 3.79 Casitas Dam 0.04 16.10 6.15 Casitas Rec. Center 0.08 14.45 6.40 Fillmore 0.08 12.54 5.41 Matilija Dam 0.16 18.66 6.63 Moorpark 0.04 9.33 3.94 Upper Ojai 0.20 5.83 5.73 Oxnard 0.04 8.80 3.69 Piru 0.04 9.00 4.38 Port Hueneme 0.04 8.51 3.72 Santa Paula 0.08 11.15 4.84 Simi Valley 0.04 8.83 3.96 Thousand Oaks 0.00 9.11 3.72 Ventura Govt. Center 0.04 9.21 4.11

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