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Farmers seek longer irrigation season
TID awaits calls for water to make decision
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The latest irrigation season in the history of the Turlock Irrigation District may be extended further, as some farmers have asked for a longer irrigation season to cope with slow-growing crops.

The irrigation season, currently due to end Nov. 3, has already been extended two weeks from a planned Oct. 19 close due to a historically rainy water year. But September rains delayed some crops even further, with growing seasons already pushed back due to a late start to summer.

The situation has some farmers, including many almond growers in the Hughson area, calling for a short-term extension of the irrigation season to get one last round of water onto trees.

One potential solution calls for a gradual shutdown of the canal system on Nov. 3, rather than a sudden shutdown. By allowing water to slowly move down canals to the lower irrigation laterals, water could effectively be available to some customers until at least Nov. 4, and possibly Nov. 5.

The one negative to the plan: Customers on the Turlock Main Canal and Ceres Main Canal would still see water end on Nov. 3, with those canals emptying first.

“I can’t serve those people and drain the water,” said Mike Kavarian, Water Distribution Department manager. “It just doesn’t happen.”

To provide water for those customers, the district would need to extend the irrigation season – a prospect which brings its own set of concerns, as TID needs to drain the canal system soon to complete maintenance work on time.

Major rehab work is needed on lower Lateral 4 to rebuild a canal drop, and throughout the canal system to repair concrete lateral walls. As canals are used to transport storm water, much of that work must be completed before the impending rainy season. Building time has already been cut short by the two-week extension granted from Oct. 19.

While Kavarian said the district could theoretically extend the season and still complete much or most of the maintenance, he said he had a “difficult time” agreeing to do so. Every year, farmers ask the district for another week or two of irrigation, Kavarian said.

“If we extend it a week, people will call me next week and ask to extend it another week,” he said.

Even should the season be extended, Kavarian said, it might start raining. Though no rain is in the forecast for the next week, rain would cut demand for irrigation water.

As a potential solution to the problem, Director Michael Frantz proposed shutting down just Lateral 4, allowing maintenance to begin while farmers on other laterals could continue irrigating.

Kavarian advised against the strategy, arguing that creating inequities among consumers could irritate farmers. Frantz said the system, while unequal, could benefit different farmers in different years, and would be something farmers could understand.

“If I'm a farmer in Lateral 4, I don't feel better about my farm being dry because I know my neighbor's farm is dry,” Frantz said.

With indecision driven in part by a lack of information on how many farmers are truly in need of extra irrigation days, Kavarian held off on altering the irrigation season – for now.

“There's too much guessing going on, because we don't know how many people will need water past Nov. 3,” said Director Charles Fernandes.

Depending on the number of calls he receives in the next few days, Kavarian will decide whether or not to extend the season. At most, the season will likely extend for a handful of days, Kavarian said, and any decision will likely affect all customers equally.

Should the season not be extended, Oct. 30 will be the last day to order irrigation water.  To place an order, or for more information, call 883-8456.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.