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Historic dry conditions prompt TID to push back irrigation season
Growers looking at less than 17 inches of water
TID pic
The canals in the Turlock Irrigation District remain empty of water, as the Board of Directors decided to postpone setting a schedule for the irrigation season for one more week. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

Bad news just keeps on coming for local growers, as the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors considers implementing an even lower than the historically-low 20 inch water allotment in 2014, once the postponed  irrigation season finally starts.

TID Assistant General Manager of Water Resources Tou Her approached the Board on Tuesday with a potential irrigation cap of less than 17 inches, although no official recommendation has been made yet.

“While I am not prepared to talk about detailed operations at this meeting, I can say that as of today we do not anticipate proposing any significant changes to what we discussed at the grower meeting last month,” said Her. “We don’t anticipate the irrigation season to change drastically, if at all.”

Her reported that although he originally proposed to bring forth a resolution on Tuesday, he has instead opted to return to the Board next week with a finalized resolution. The resolution will include the dates of the 2015 irrigation season, water availability and corresponding rate schedules.

 “Since our grower meeting last month, hydrological conditions have deteriorated quite significantly,” said Her. “March typically yields an average of 5.40 inches of precipitation and we received only 0.42 inches—less than half an inch of precipitation.

“We did not even get the dry scenario. We got less than dry,” continued Her.

Her also noted accumulated precipitation in the Tuolumne River Watershed currently stands at 14.15 inches, which is 48.3 percent of average for this date, while snow sensors are reading an unprecedented 11.5 percent of average for this date. 

Additionally, the elevation of Don Pedro Lake has only risen three feet due to runoff that the region has received—an amount that Her reports is still 26 feet lower than the level it was at last year.

According to Her, this additional week will allow staff to further consider a number of important components, one of which is the Department of Water Resources’ latest runoff forecasts based on updated snow sensors.

“During normal years—years when we are in better conditions—these changing numbers every week do have an impact, but not a significant impact to our numbers because we are talking about three to four feet of water,” said Her. “But on years like this when we are talking about 15 to 17 inches of water, those weekly changes have a significant impact to available water.”

The District will also utilize this time to finalize its own planned operations and evaluate the most current information regarding operations at Don Pedro Lake, including what Modesto Irrigation District and the City and County of San Francisco are doing.

“San Francisco does have a water bank and their operations are integral to what we do and it significantly impacts our ability to provide water as well,” said Her. “Another week of consideration is significant for us. We’ll be able to consider their planned operations and how it will impact our amount of water.”

Some growers in the District are concerned about the continued postponement of the start of the irrigation season.

“I’ve received calls from tree growers who understand the severity and number of inches, but in their opinion they need to utilize that water earlier than later,” said Director Joe Alamo. “They will try to make that 15 to 17 inches work, but they’re saying their crops are really being damaged at this time if they aren’t getting that water.”

In response, Her noted that beginning the irrigation sooner for customers will only increase the likelihood that people are going to run out of water sooner. 

The TID Board of Directors will meet on Tuesday when they are expected to set the 2015 irrigation rates, as well as water availability and a corresponding rate schedule.  The Board meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the TID Boardroom at 333 E. Canal Dr.