Friday, February 7, 2014

Still a Drought...

It's finally raining here!  It's been so long, I almost forgot where I'd stashed my rain gear!  While this rain has done wonders for my attitude, the drought is still a long way from being over - here's why:

First, our normal rainfall in Auburn (according to from July 1 through January 31 is just over 20 inches.  As of this morning, we're still under 6 inches since July 1.  The forecast for this weekend suggests we may get as much as 4 more inches by Monday morning, but we're still playing catch up.

Second, even with this rain, it will take at least 30 days for the grass to grow to a point where our sheep will be able to get most of their nutrition from it.  That means at least 30 more days of feeding hay (unless we can find new pastures that haven't been grazed this fall and winter).  From an economic standpoint, 30 days of feeding hay will cost us approximately $27 per animal.  Leased pasture (assuming there is grass), by contrast, costs $3-4 per animal per month.  In other words, one month of feeding hay costs the same as 9 months of grazing on leased pasture.

Finally, we depend on stored water to get us through the summer months.  This time of year, much of our summer water should be stored as snow (which will run-off into mountain reservoirs to be used for irrigation.  While this latest storm has helped the snow pack situation as well, the January 31 snow survey indicated that the Northern Sierra snow pack was just 6 percent of normal for this time of year.  Here's a photograph of Spaulding Lake in the Yuba River watershed - it's indicative of other northern Sierra reservoirs where our irrigation water comes from.  The Nevada Irrigation District and the Placer County Water Agency are still anticipating steep reductions in the amount of irrigation water they'll be able to deliver this summer.

At just over 5000 elevation, Spaulding Lake should be surrounded by snow-capped peaks
at this time of year.  This photo was taken on January 30, 2014 (credit: Sierra Nevada Conservancy)
So while I'm grateful to have a weather-related reason to spend time indoors this weekend, I'm still worried about the drought.  We're still anticipating the need to reduce the size of our sheep flock, and we're still thinking that we won't be able to finish any grass-fed lambs this summer.  Nonetheless, a drop in the bucket is still a drop of water - I just hope the drops keep coming!

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