The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors set the 2020 irrigation season during a Special Meeting Friday, extending the period for local farmers beyond dates recommended by staff in spite of historically dry conditions.
This month has been one of the driest Februarys on record when it comes to precipitation accumulated in the Tuolumne River Watershed with just .03 inches of rainfall, and the total rainfall for the water year to date (11.66 inches) is just 50.2 percent of the average. TID Utility Analyst Olivia Cramer explained that even with some rain coming in the next 16 days, the 0.2 to 0.3 inches of anticipated precipitation isn’t nearly enough to get numbers back to normal.
“Although we are looking at a possible storm, it’s not going to get us to those levels we need,” Cramer said.
In addition, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at just 38.5 percent of average for the date. These dry conditions brought impatient growers from across the water agency’s service district to the TID Board room Friday, eager to hear when they would be able to begin irrigating their crops.
Water Distribution Department Manager Mike Kavarian initially presented a resolution to the Board that would have set the 2020 irrigation season from March 5 to Oct. 7 with a 42-inch allotment. According to Cramer, this would provide almost 507,000-acre feet, or 27 inches, of carryover water storage next year — an important factor when weighing the possibility of more dry years to follow.
Unlike past dry years, the water allotment wasn’t an issue for many growers in the room, however, the length of the irrigation season caused some concern.
“As a guy who grows corn and almonds, I’m scared about losing that last irrigation,” one grower in attendance said.
Director Ron Macedo asked Kavarian why the irrigation season couldn’t run through the end of October. While wet weather in March could help extend the season, as Kavarian explained has happened in years past, during a dry year it would be problematic to extend the season. Kavarian said 20 days added to the season would pull an additional two and a half to three inches of water from storage. This, combined with the usual “lull” in water orders that comes in late September, would amount to a potential waste of water, he said.
Some farmers called out potential solutions to this issue, such as shutting the irrigation system down for three weeks during the lull in September, shutting down the system for a bit after the first orders are received in March or lowering the minimum flow for irrigation water orders.
“If we do extend the season, which I’m very supportive of…we’d have to make up for it with a shutdown in September or October,” Director Michael Frantz said, emphasizing the need to be prudent when rationing water for future years.
The latter would force growers to wait longer for their water, Kavarian said, while Macedo argued that shutting the system down for a few weeks in the fall would take away flexibility for the farmers.
At the direction of the Board, Kavarian said he would look into all of the conservation options in order to amend the resolution to set the 2020 irrigation season from March 2 to Oct. 28. The Board approved the amended resolution unanimously.
“I’m sure you can come up with something,” Director Joe Alamo told Kavarian. “You’ve got a lot of training.”