As the drought continues to scorch the state with no foreseeable end, the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors took action on Tuesday to implement a historically-low 18-inch cap water allotment with no carryover in the Don Pedro Reservoir for the 2015 irrigation season.
“I think 18 inches this year is a big deal and easily welcomed by the farming community,” said Director Michael Frantz. “I don’t like us not having any carryover, but I think the number we’re at is so low that we have little choice but to give the water we do have to the community so they can put it to best use.”
Although growers in attendance were optimistically hoping for more irrigation water, with the state currently in the midst of a four-year drought the general consensus remained clear that they would take whatever water they could get to make it through this year.
“With these 18 inches we’re going to basically squeak by, but we’re definitely going to lose production,” said one grower at Tuesday’s meeting. “We are just trying to keep our crops alive.”
This week’s resolution came after the Board originally opted during their last meeting to allot more time to TID staff to take into final consideration a number of components, including the Department of Water Resources’ latest runoff forecasts based on updated snow sensors, as well as operations at Don Pedro Lake, Modesto Irrigation District and the City and County of San Francisco.
According to Her, this additional week has proved beneficial to local growers in at least in one aspect.
“This week allowed us to get back information from San Francisco and understand their operations,” said Her. “We were pleased to hear from them that they plan to release more water into Don Pedro than they had originally planned, so that is good news to us.
“That is why today I have a different number than I have been talking with local growers during the last two months,” continued Her.
Although this news comes as a slight relief to local growers who were originally expecting a 15-inch cap—an amount that was discussed during a series of grower meetings earlier this year— members of the Board still remained skeptical.
“There is no guarantee that that’s going to happen, that’s my real concern,” said Director Charles Fernandes of San Francisco's planned water release. “They can change their mind anytime they want, there’s no contract that they are going to release that water.”
Fernandes also voiced concerns regarding the District’s unprecedented decision to not set aside any carryover water within the Don Pedro Reservoir for the subsequent year.
“This will be the first time that we’ve ever gone to the point of not having any carryover from year to year,” said Fernandes. “My personal feeling is that we should be lowering the amount allowed this year and keeping some for next year because the way things are looking right now, it can be another dry year and then we’ll have nothing.”
“I agree; I don’t think our goal is to maximize almond production this year, we need to save the trees,” said Director Rob Santos. “If we don’t save the trees for next year, then there will be no harvest next year, so we need to carryover so we can save the trees next year if next year is a drought.
“You’re not thinking about the future, it doesn’t make any sense,” continued Santos.
Despite the evident opposition articulated by Fernandes and Santos, the Board still took action to approve the resolution in its entirety with a 3-2 vote.
The Board also shortened the irrigation season for 2015, which is set to begin April 9 and end Oct. 7. The TID Irrigation Call Center will be activated and begin accepting water orders at 7 a.m. on April 8 and irrigation water can then be purchased pursuant to the District’s dry-year rate schedule.
“Similar to last year, in order to stretch out the amount of water available in this irrigation season, we will anticipate increasing wait times by 12 to 24 hours and it will vary depending on where people are at,” said Her.
Growers will also be allowed to go over the available water by up to two inches to complete their final irrigation and will be billed at whatever rate tier in which that water is used.
Along with setting the 2015 irrigation season rates and schedule on Tuesday, Her also reported that the District will continue to implement a combination of measures to optimize water supplies, including reducing surface water releases, increasing rented and drainage pumping to supplement surface water supplies, and minimizing operational spills.
The District also plans to supplement surface water with well water, with plans to pump approximately 90,000 acre-feet of water from drainage and rented wells, and limit spills to an estimated five percent.
Her also added that TID staff will continue to monitor canals very closely for unauthorized use of water and charge those found guilty with a $1,000 penalty fee, followed by an additional $60 per acre-foot.
“Beyond that, the general manager has been authorized to withhold water for the parcels owned and all parcels rented by that person for the rest of the year,” said Her.