Concerned farmers and growers packed Tuesday morning’s Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors meeting, as the district prepares to enter one of the driest irrigation seasons on record.
Tou Her, assistant general manager for water resources, provided the board with a report on how the district could choose to operate throughout the dry conditions as California continues to experience one of the worst droughts in over a decade.
Although TID staff reported that the district is projecting to receive 10 more inches of rain by September, local growers and farmers will likely see a lower allotment during the irrigation season as staff reported an available 22.5 inches for irrigation purposes in the Don Pedro Reservoir.
“Even if we get 10 more inches of rain this year, we’re still in the driest three years on record,” said Her.
According to Her, the month of January, during a normal year, would see nearly 6 inches of rainfall. But with over 90 percent of the state suffering from severe or extreme drought conditions, Her reported that the district had received zero thus far.
“Our goal is to provide 120,000 acre feet, if we can get that amount of water,” said Her. “There will not be any early irrigation, however, as we’re keeping all the water available for the regular irrigation season.”
The irrigation season, which usually runs from mid-March to mid-October, will most likely see a soft cap in place, allowing growers to go slightly over the cap if necessary to finish off the season.
According to Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian, who has been with the district for over 30 years, the district has never utilized a hard cap which would prevent growers from receiving any additional water after using their initial allotment.
Suggesting a hard cap be in place, Director Michael Frantz said that the district could offer a larger allotment with no additional water being offered once a grower’s limit was reached.
“I think if we could tell them that they only have a certain amount of water available, and if you’re going beyond that then you’re actually taking somebody else’s water because that’s what it really boils down to,” said Frantz. “The pool of water is only so big and then we’re going to be out. So if we say that you have two hours to go, or four hours to go, and they call in for their last order, I think we can rely on them to self-regulate the system because if they’re not, and they go beyond it, they are then taking their neighbor's water. I’d like to think that we can give them the maximum size allotment and put our cards out on the table.”
The problem with setting a hard cap allotment, according to Her, is that should a grower go over the allotted amount, the district would dip into the carryover for next year’s obligated environmental releases.
“We would have to make some adjustments as well,” said Her. “It would affect the staff’s practices, and the irrigation system. There are a lot of districts that do the hard cap, and there is an ability to do so…There would have to be changes in how we operate.”
TID President and Director Ron Macedo said that while he understood that a hard cap has its benefits, he believes a soft cap keeps with TID's traditions while being the most efficient option.
“The thing we have to realize here is if the soft cap gives us the flexibility, and if in that flexibility we end up saving more water, then we can operate our system better and that’s what we need to look at,” said Macedo. “I understand the hard cap is saying ‘There’s your number right there, don’t go over it’, but in that deal, flexibility is not an option. TID has a long history of being flexible and trying to work with growers and trying to make it best for everybody. But having said all that, the goal has to be to save as much water and be as efficient as we can.”
Other staff members shared that changing to a hard cap system may not be the best decision, as having to change their practices and operations during a critically dry year could be difficult.
“I would hate to see the board handcuff the staff, farmers and growers out there to where we’re not as efficient as we possibly can be,” said Macedo. “The goal and the bottom line is to be as efficient as we possibly can, and we can do that by cutting it back 2 inches to give the flexibility.”
Some of the growers in attendance shared concerns regarding others who might go above their allotment, which staff members said they would be trying to regulate more strictly this season.
According to Her, should a person be found taking advantage of water without authorization, a penalty or fine of $1,000 would be issued, alongside a fine of $60 per acre-foot of water used. Additionally, the general manager currently holds the power to withhold water to any parcel found to be using water without authorization.
“We’ll be increasing security along the canals,” said Her. “There is also an unauthorized use of water hotline that our growers can report any incidents to.”
TID staff will bring their final recommendations for the Board of Directors during the Feb. 25 meeting, where a 20-inch allotment with an additional 2 inches as part of the soft cap is expected to be voted on.
The District will provide a series of grower meetings, providing information about the upcoming irrigation season at 7 p.m. on Jan. 29 and 30 at the TID Main Office Building. Meetings for growers will also be scheduled for the end of February.
“All the farmers have pulled together because they realize what’s going on here, and the staff realizes what’s happening here,” said Macedo. “We’re doing the best we can and we’re preparing right now and that’s part of the picture here. But the one thing we know for sure is that we want to do the best for this region and for this district and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The next TID meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at the Main Office Building located at 333 E. Canal Drive.