As the ongoing drought has left growers across the state with little water for irrigation, the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors will set their own irrigation rates for the upcoming season on Tuesday - including the lowest TID irrigation water cap on record.
During Tuesday's meeting, the board will not only set the start date and rate schedule for the 2014 irrigation season, but also proclaim the district in a drought state of condition. Due to several factors, including the past three dry consecutive water years, the full natural flow of the Tuolumne River being at less than 10 percent of the historical average, and the negative impact to the district's hydroelectric generation capabilities, the resolution will proclaim the district as in a drought state of condition, directing staff to develop and implement strategies to conserve water.
Due to the drought, the TID Board of Directors plan to set a 20-inch cap to water customers for the 2014 irrigation season -a significant reduction compared to previous years. As the unprecedented drought continues to have potentially alarming effects on district customers, TID plans to continue to be a good steward of water, including delivering water as efficiently as possible, limiting operational spills that exit the distribution system, and continuing environmental stewardship efforts.
TID says it will continue to strategically utilize its conjunctive use program of planned groundwater recharge in wet years and managed pumping in dry years. Additionally, staff has been directed to strictly enforce the existing irrigation rules, which irrigation customers are being held responsible for knowing and complying with. Due to the severity of the drought, some of the rules have been relaxed, says TID, to allow customers to transfer water from a parcel that they did not rent in 2013, provided the parcel transferring water had a water receipt from the 2013 irrigation season. Without a receipt, the transfer would not be allowed.
With the amount of available water in the Don Pedro Reservoir representing a volume that is among the lowest in TID's history of distributing irrigation water, the rate schedule for the 2014 irrigation season and amount of allotted water is significantly less than normal or wet years.
The district also plans to reduce the length of the irrigation season, as they hope to continue its practice of reserving carryover storage in Don Pedro for future use, should the drought persist through the coming years. However, should there be no additional rainfall, TID's water supply modeling suggests that the district would have zero carryover for irrigation the following year. By decreasing the irrigation allotment to a 20-inch cap, TID would preserve an estimated 95,000 acre-feet of water in Don Pedro, barely insuring that the reservoir would have enough water stored to meet the district's regulatory commitments.
The irrigation season is set to begin on March 27, continuing through Oct. 8. If approved, the TID irrigation call center would be activated and begin accepting water orders on March 26. Due to unsettled weather patterns, the Water Distribution Department manager will be authorized to adjust the start and end dates of the irrigation season as may be necessary, allowing district staff to adjust quickly to maximize the use of limited resources.
According to TID, the district anticipates to pump approximately 120,000 acre-feet of water from drainage and rented wells, while limiting spills to approximately 5 percent.
Using a soft cap system, TID will allow growers to go over the available water by a maximum amount of four inches to complete their final irrigation, being billed at whichever rate tier in which that water is used.
With 2014 being deemed a critically dry year, the district will utilize the Dry Year Water Rate schedule that was approved in 2012, which includes higher prices than normal year rates. Irrigation customers will see an initial fixed cost of $26 per acre, with one acre-foot of water available for $2. The next 18 inches of water will be charged at $3 per acre-foot, with another acre-foot costing $15. Additional water will then cost growers $20 per acre-foot.
As many growers have expressed concerns regarding others who might go above their allotment, TID staff has been directed to better regulate this season.
According to Assistant General Manager for Water Resources Tou Her, a person found taking advantage of water without authorization will be issued a penalty or fine of $1,000, alongside a fine of $60 per acre-foot of the water used. Additionally, the general manager could choose to withhold water to any parcel found to be using excess water without authorization.
Although the district will be increasing security along the canals this irrigation season, says Her, growers are encouraged to report any incidents to TID's security hotline.
On Tuesday, the TID Board of Directors is also expected to:
• Receive weekly updates on electric services, power, and water;
• Enter conference with legal counsel on anticipated litigation during closed session.
The TID Board of Directors meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at the TID Main Office, located at 333 E. Canal Drive.