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Irrigation season pushed back due to rain

POSTED March 4, 2011 10:16 p.m.

Due to changing weather conditions the start of irrigation season for Turlock Irrigation District customers has been pushed back seven days, from Thursday to March 17, the district announced at its annual pre-season growers meeting Wednesday night.

As of now, growers may begin placing orders for water on March 16. But, should storms come, the irrigation season start date may be pushed back further yet to March 24.

The stormy winter has already had a major impact on the coming irrigation season, filling the district’s Don Pedro Reservoir and piling snow in the surrounding mountains. Already, more than 37 inches of rain have fallen in the district’s watershed; an average, full water year sees just 36 inches of rain. Snow sensors similarly report snowpack between 106 percent and 124 percent of normal for today’s date, and near the normal snowpack at the end of the water year.

“Those figures are very positive and very impressive,” said Mike Kavarian, TID Water Distribution Department manager. “… Whatever you need for your crop, you will be able to get through the irrigation system – for a cost.”Growers will have access to a 48 acre-inch allotment of irrigation water, with unlimited water available beyond the allotment. The allotment will cost $26 per acre. The next acre-foot will cost $15, and each additional acre-foot will cost $20.

Due to the wet winter, the district also notified growers it would be renting fewer pumps this year – used to pump groundwater into irrigation canals to remove some distribution constraints in the system – down to between 55 and 60 pumps from the 85 to 90 pumps rented in previous, drier years. Water district operators will bring contracts to growers at the start of the season.

And despite the near-constant rain, the district was able to perform numerous improvement projects to the canal system, installing new walkways, resurfacing several miles of deteriorating canals, and raising the canal walls to increase the system’s capacity.

TID also informed growers of a new, private security firm which will be patrolling TID canals and external facilities 24 hours a day. The firm, Rank Investigations, will drive white Ford F-150 pickups with “Patrol” in large letters on each side.

And the district informed farmers about changes to its aquatic growth abatement program. The chemical used in past years was banned last year, forcing the district to instead drag the canals with chains to remove mossy growth.

The chain dragging will continue, supplemented by a new chemical starting this year. Some TID employees’ schedules will change this year to allow more canal cleaning. Off-season cleaning attempted to remove as much dirt from the canals as possible so as to discourage growth in the first place.

The pre-season grower meeting closed with TID Interim Assistant General Manager of Civil Engineering and Water Resources Robert Nees providing a detailed update of numerous legislative challenges potentially facing the district’s water supply. He spoke on environmental groups’ efforts to increase flows down rivers to help fish populations, those attempting to redirect water from farming to drinking, and the district’s ongoing effort to relicense Don Pedro Reservoir with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

That relicensing process will likely see the district lose access to some of the water in Don Pedro, which will instead redirected down the Tuolumne River to aid fish.

“We will lose some, how much I don’t know,” said Nees. “That’s our goal here, to keep it to a reasonable amount.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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