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Stories from the valley

Rain… and what it means

Contributed by Dan Macon

So, a thing happened weekend before last. It rained. A lot. More than it’s rained in many months. More, in fact, that it’s rained in 24 hours since we moved to Auburn 20 years ago. Since our “official” water year began on October 1, we’ve measured more than 10 inches of precipitation. In the 237 months I’ve recorded rainfall totals here in Auburn, there have only been nine that were wetter than October 2021. And this comes after the driest year we’ve ever experienced. Last weekend’s rain, to say the least, was welcome. But the drought is not over.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for the moisture! I’m happy that we had rain less than two weeks after our irrigation season ended. I’m thankful that the stock ponds here in Placer County (including ours) are full once again. I’m ecstatic that we have shoots of green showing on our rangeland. But the drought is not over.

nearly full rain gauge

Imagine you hadn’t eaten for a week – and you arrived at a banquet where you could gorge yourself on a month’s worth of food. You’d eat until you couldn’t eat any more – and yet you’d still be hungry in a day or two. That’s what the six-plus inches of rain we measured on Sunday is like – we’ve enjoyed it, but we’re hungry for more.

When rain falls as fast as it did last Sunday, the soil can’t accept it all – and that’s why our pond filled. The rain came faster than it could soak in, so much of it ran off. But what did soak in has started our grass – and taken some of the pressure off of our fall grazing plans. Without green grass in November and December, we’d need to feed hay to our pregnant ewes. With green feed coming – and more rain in our forecast – we can breathe a sigh of relief. But the drought is not over.

fall leaves on the ground, sheep in the background

My friend and colleague, Dr. Leslie Roche, who is a professor of extension in rangeland management at UC Davis, reminded me that we’re at least a year – if not two – behind in our “normal” precipitation. This drought has been a long time building – one weekend of extreme rainfall won’t make up for our moisture deficit. A week or two of warm November temperatures and drying winds would still leave us dry at Thanksgiving. So the drought isn’t over.

So while I still have some long-term anxiety over what the coming year will bring in terms of grass and water, I’m breathing a bit easier this week. I know that we’ll likely have enough green grass to get through November – and if the rain in our forecast materializes next week, we’ll have grass through the end of the year. Timing is everything when it comes to forage production on our annual rangelands. We’re off to a good start! Just keep it coming!