TID Board Approves Early Irrigation During Dry Spell

Persistent dry weather conditions combined with the absence of appreciable rainfall in local forecasts prompted the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) Board of Directors to authorize an early irrigation beginning on January 19th to satisfy growers’ needs. The early irrigation period is expected to last approximately 10 days and is dependent on weather conditions.

At Tuesday’s TID Board meeting, the Board approved a staff recommendation to charge growers $15 per acre-foot. There was much discussion about how to charge during the public comment period.

Several farmers were there questioning if the water taken during irrigation would go against their allotted water during regular irrigation season. If TID did not charge for the water taken during early irrigation then most farmers would take advantage of the early water. However, by charging for water taken now gives farmers a chance to weigh their options of watering a crop now and possibly having a shortage of water for later crops such as corn or leaving the fate of their current crops to nature or for the few with an option to pump water to their crops at the cost of the electricity used.

Another concern expressed by the farmers was if the water is charged against their allotment then what is their allotment going to be for the year. However, staff could not provide a solid estimate for the year at this time.

If the dry weather continues it would be the driest since 1977 in which farmers only received 12 acre feet. At that time water was managed much different such as releasing water into stream strictly for power generation. Now water is carefully monitored with releases for power generation corresponding to other needs such as irrigation or necessary steam flows mandated by the government. In addition, at the first sign of a dry year TID starts planning for a potential 3 year drought so that the reservoir is not depleted like it was in 1977.

Staff is expected to bring back a better estimate of what the 2012 allotment could be in a worst case scenario. That estimate could still change if a "Fabulous February" or "Miracle March" of rainfall happens. With the worst case scenario the farmers could take the facts available at the time of the early irrigation to make their decisions.

"The fact that farmers can choose to take or not take the water makes it a fair offer by TID," said Charles Fernandes, TID Director of Division 2.

Several of the farmers thanked the TID board for considering not only what worked for TID but also taking into consideration the farmers point of view as well.

The TID Board’s approved early irrigation will be separate from the regular 2012 irrigation season that traditionally begins in mid-March. Water delivered during the early period will not be counted against the allotment set for the 2012 season, which has not yet been determined. The last time TID implemented an early irrigation was in 2007.

Growers will be able to begin placing water orders on January 18th by calling the TID Irrigation Call Center at 883-8456. Outstanding water charges and assessment balances must be paid in order to receive irrigation water.

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