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Rain on its way; Irrigation season outlook still bleak
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An irrigation water outlook termed “critical” just a week ago appears much rosier today, with new forecasts showing heavy rainfall this week.

But even torrential downpours for the rest of 2012 would only result in an average water year, according to the Turlock Irrigation District, following a historically dry start to January.

“We think things are going to change from where they are today,” said Bob Nees, TID director of water resources and regulatory affairs. “The forecast is good this week.”

TID now forecasts between three and five inches of rainfall in its watershed by the end of the week.

That could double the water year's total of 4.94 inches of rainfall, with just .38 inches in December and none thus far in the month of January. But because the ground is so dry, as much as two inches of that rainfall could saturate the ground, rather than run off to TID's Don Pedro Reservoir.

To illustrate the dire state of this water year, the district on Tuesday revealed a sample 2012 irrigation allotment, should no further rain fall.

The district estimates that, currently, Don Pedro Reservoir holds enough water to allow for 48 inches of irrigation in 2012 – but only if TID completely drains the reservoir, and pumps a further 120,000 acre-feet of groundwater. Based on that capacity, TID staff said they would recommend a 28-inch irrigation allotment and cap, allowing a 20-inch carryover for 2013 in case of continued drought.

“It's impossible to know what will happen next year, or how long the dry period will last,” Nees said. “There's no crystal ball that will tell you that.”

With impending rain, the 2012 allotment will likely exceed Tuesday's very preliminary estimate, but the final figure will not be determined until the regular irrigation season nears.


Early irrigation to begin

Despite the coming rain, TID is still planning for an abbreviated, approximately 10-day early irrigation season, due to start Thursday. TID directors approved that season on Jan. 10 to help water-starved farmers whose crops faced death.

In preparation for that season, the district began releasing water into the main canal on Monday, with diversions entering the highline canal today.

“We will determine how things flow as far as how the orders are received, and how this rain is going to impact us,” said Mike Kavarian, TID water distribution department manager.

Kavarian said he expects some forage crop farmers may forego irrigation, with one to one and half inches of rainfall expected locally. But tree growers will likely still take irrigation water, he said, and those forage crop farmers may call to place orders early next week, should rainfall not materialize as expected.

Orders will be taken for irrigation water beginning today, from 7 a.m. through 5 p.m., by calling the TID Irrigation Call Center at 883-8456. Water will cost $15 per acre-foot, and will not count against farmers' allotments, which have yet to be determined for 2012. All outstanding water charges and assessment balances must be paid before irrigation water will be delivered.

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