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TID to increase irrigation spills

POSTED March 30, 2010 10:15 p.m.
The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors approved an irrigation management plan Tuesday morning that will see spills nearly double for the sake of increased operational flexibility.
Last year, about 4.3 percent of water flowing down the canals — about 23,870 acre-feet — spilled to rivers at the end of the TID system. This year, that number may rise to 51,000 acre-feet of water, or 8.2 percent of delivered water.
Those increased spills are unavoidable to provide significant flows of water at the farthest reaches of the canal system, according to Larry Weis, TID general manager.
“If you want growers at the bottom end of our system to have adequate water, all the time, you need to spill,” Weis said.
For the past two years, TID board policy has been to minimize spills. Directors had hoped that environmental groups would then be unable to point to spills as wasted water that they could lay claims to.
In the future, TID hopes to count spill water toward legislated releases intended to protect fish habitats in the Sacramento Delta.
The change in spill policy could also help to curtail groundwater pumping, which reached record levels in 2007, 2008 and 2009, when the board had worked hardest to limit spills. The district spent $1.5 million on rented groundwater pumps in 2009, pumping 43,342 acre-feet of water.
In 2004 and 2006, the last years spills were near 8 percent, groundwater pumping was nearer to 21,000 acre-feet.
“We’re just pulling the water out of the ground trying to save some spill water,” said TID Director Joe Alamo. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
The spill change will allow water deliveries to be made using surface water in most cases. Rented pumps will only be used to address canal capacity constraints, assist in controlling some spills, and to provide low flow, short duration deliveries when surface water is an untenable option.
The District hopes the new policy will lead to rising groundwater levels, increasing opportunities for pumping in drought years.
In other irrigation management changes, ditch tenders will resume working 12 hour days on weekends, and will be able to call in water orders for customers. Starting next year, TID customers will be able to place water orders online, which will be dispatched to ditch tenders’ vehicle-based computers.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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