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Dry winter brings bad news for growers
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The 2013 irrigation season is off to a rough start, with only a 30 inch cap available for local growers due to recent drought conditions. The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors approved the 30 inch cap — 10 inches less than last year — at Tuesday's meeting, along with the season schedule set for  March 7 to Oct. 9 this year.

As of December 2012, the water rate at Don Pedro was 20 percent below normal, said TID Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian at a TID grower meeting held Monday night at Chatom Elementary.

Within a month, from December to January, Kavarian’s analysis showed that water levels were 40 percent of normal despite the six and a half inches of rain projected throughout the month. Another six and a half inches were projected for the month of February, but only gained seven-tenths of an inch.

“It was one of the driest winters ever for the District on record. We are now about 75 percent of normal for rainfall at Don Pedro. With the next 16 day forecasts, we are being projected as dry. This does not look like a decent year for us,” Kavarian said to local growers. “All we can do is hope.”

Local growers seemed exasperated by the projection at Monday’s meeting about the shortfall in rain. Regardless, they were expected to ready themselves for a harsh season of irrigation.

Don Pedro is 20 to 25 feet lower than normal. At the start of this irrigation season, Don Pedro is already lower than it was by the same day last year. As a result, TID has deemed this year a Dry Year Scenario and customers will have to dish out more money.

Dry year rates for Tier 2 and Tier 3 have risen from $15 to $20 per acre-foot to a fixed charge of $26 per acre, including a $2 charge per acre-foot up to 1 acre-feet for Tier 1, $3 per acre-foot, up to 1.5 acre-feet for Tier 2, and a skyrocketing charge of $15 to $20 per acre-foot, up to 1 acre foot for Tiers 3 and 4.

An average acreage using 33 inches of water will have an increase of $6.50 per acre. TID will send out additional information sheets in the next coming weeks, and expects a 20 percent increase for most users.

Local growers were hit with even more bad news at Monday's meeting, as TID officials are preparing for the mandated switch from an allotment charge to volumetric pricing.

The District must install five permanent gates and five rotational gates into the canals to implement the state's new water usage mandate by 2014. To help growers prepare for the change, TID will be using this year's water usage data to estimate charges when billing is switched to volumetric pricing.

“This year is a fact finding mission. We are trying to understand what the water usage is. We are not using that information to charge you for this year. Until we have a good handle from what it looks like by the District boundaries, we are only implementing dry year water rates through volumetric prices," Kavarian said.

“Know that the district is trying to do all we can to help the customers."

Though the measuring gates are expected to save water, the cost of building the custom gates on TID's historic canals is “relatively expensive.”  Currently, the only known source for building these gates is a company in Australia called Rubicon.  TID is hopeful to find other vendors within the state for a cheaper price despite the fact that there are not many manufacturers out there.

There are three more TID grower meetings scheduled:

7 p.m. tonight at Westport Fire Station, 5160 S. Carpenter Rd., Westport7 p.m. Thursday at TID Ceres Office, 2944 3rd St., Ceres7 p.m. March 4 at TID Board Room, 333 E. Canal Dr., Turlock

Growers can begin placing their water orders today by calling TID’s Irrigation call center at 883-8456.