Local growers are facing another bleak irrigation season that could turn out to be even worse than the historically-low 20 inch water allotments seen in 2014.
"The hydrological situation for 2015 is not shaping up very well for us," said Tou Her, Turlock Irrigation District's assistant general manager of water resources in his report to the TID Board of Trustees Tuesday night in front of a packed room.
"Precipitation... is at 58 percent; snowpack is at 23 percent. On top of that, we're starting out with a reservoir that is 30 feet below what we were at last year. It's very much compounding. That amounts to approximately 200,000 acre feet that we're short compared to what we had last year," he said.
All that data means bad news for water customers. At this point in time, Her said his department would recommend an irrigation cap of less than 18 inches — and that number assumes 10 more inches of rain falling in February and March. Her said the district will probably push back the start of the irrigation season , like it did in 2014, to mid-April.
The district is also planning to pump 90,000 acre feet of groundwater for the 2015 season, 30,000 acre feet more than last year. Although planning to rent more pumps than ever before, pump owners in one area of the district will not be asked to help out.
Her said that due to efficiency concerns, the district would not be renting pumps located in the northeast quadrant — east of Faith Home Road and north of Harding Road. However, those pump owners will receive information on pumping for credit.
The information shared at Tuesday's meeting was not news to Turlock almond growers Patrick Romero and Paul Kearley.
"We already know what the weather is," said Kearley. "The important meeting will be a month from now."
"I'll be praying for rain. Mother Nature not only controls the weather, she also controls commodity values," said Romero.
Romero is an advocate for water conservation and is currently installing a drip irrigation system in his almond orchards, a very expensive undertaking he said.
Water conservation was also highlighted at Tuesday's grower meeting, along with efforts to reduce spillage and unauthorized use of water.
Tuesday's update was an earlier-than-usual report on how the irrigation season is shaping up. The district will hold another set of grower meetings in late February, when more information will be available on the state of water resources. At that time, the TID Board of Trustees is expected to vote on water allotments and start date for the season.
Her noted the data could actually be worse at that time, necessitating an even lower water allotment for the season.
"We're just hoping for more rain. That's the bottom line," said TID Board President Ron Macedo.
The second early grower meeting — including the exact same information from Tuesday's meeting — will be held at 5:30 p.m. today in the TID Boardroom at 333 E. Canal Dr.