A historically rainless winter led the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors to approve an early irrigation season Tuesday, set to begin Jan. 19.
The short season, lasting approximately 10 days, will allow farmers to save water-starved row crops – predominantly oats – planted before the current dry spell. Water will cost $15 per acre-foot, and will not count against farmers' allotments, which have yet to be determined for 2012.
According to TID, more than 100 phone calls have been received in recent weeks from farmers in need of water. The district has attempted to meet demand without the use of gravity water, but as the dry spell has stretched on, calls for irrigation have increased.
“We're doing everything we can right now to physically get to as many people as we can with the pumped water we have available to us,” said Mike Kavarian, TID Water Distribution Department manager.
Orders for water will begin Jan. 18. Growers can order water by calling the TID Irrigation Call Center at 883-8456. All outstanding water charges and assessment balances must be paid before irrigation water will be delivered. Garden head rotations will not occur during the early season; those users must call in a regular order for irrigation water.
The district projects that between 30,000 and 35,000 acre-feet of water will be ordered during the 10-day season.
Early irrigation will allow TID to push back the start of the regular irrigation season to the end of March, should rain fall in February. But if weather demands, the summer irrigation season could begin earlier.
Drought possibility spells potentially limited 2012 allotment
Though TID officials have yet to determine the 2012 irrigation water allotment, projections shown Tuesday suggested a possible 36-inch water allotment in a dry scenario.
Should drought-like conditions continue into 2013 and 2014, those years could see as small as a 24-inch allotment, said Wes Monier, TID Strategic Issues and Planning Department manager.
“It's kind of draconian, but that's the kind of conditions we could be facing,” Monier said.
An updated allotment outlook is expected at Tuesday's TID Board of Directors' meeting, but the historic lack of rain portents a smaller allotment than in 2011, when one of the rainiest water years in history allowed for a 48 inch allotment with no cap.
The TID watershed tallied just .38 inches of rain in December – well below the December average of six inches of precipitation. In total, the district has seen only 4.94 inches of rainfall this water year.
The outlook only worsens as TID forecasts no rain locally until after Jan. 16, at the earliest, effectively zeroing out the rainiest part of the year. By mid-January, the district averages 18 inches of precipitation each water year. Even if TID sees a historically rainy end to the water year, the district forecasts a below-average water year.
“It's critically dry,” Monier said, “maybe even drier than that.”
While torrential floods could appear, Monier noted, the occurrence is “highly unlikely.” But TID staff and growers alike are still hoping for a “Miracle March” which could save the irrigation season.
“If it doesn't rain, and it stays as dry as it is...” TID Director Michael Frantz said.
“We're screwed,” Director Joe Alamo said.
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