Though some farmers have requested an extension, the Turlock Irrigation District is moving forward with plans to end the 2013 irrigation season on Oct. 9.
The seemingly early end to the irrigation season, driven by drought conditions for the past two years and a desire to carry over more water in storage for next year, is bad news for almond growers, according to TID customer Rob Conway.
“We've got a lot of guys out there that are not going to get water on their trees,” Conway said. “This affects next year's crop.”
Even five or six days could make a major difference, Conway said. Many nut trees need to be watered for a final time before the end of the season, and Oct. 9 is just too early for that watering. The Modesto Irrigation District will end its irrigation season Oct. 25.
But Don Pedro Reservoir, the source of TID's water, currently sits at its lowest level since 2009. And only a half-inch of rain has fallen since the start of September, with no precipitation forecast for the next 16 days. That worries TID directors, as the reservoir could be emptied with another year of nonexistent rain.
“It's a real challenge to try to balance the supply with the projection for the future,” TID Board of Directors Chairman Michael Frantz said.
In normal years the district ends irrigation season around Oct. 15 or 16, TID Water Distribution Manager Mike Kavarian said. The season traditionally ends a week or two earlier in drought years, roughly on par with this year's end date.
“This is normal for a drought,” TID Director Joe Alamo said. “This isn't abnormally early.”
More and more almond orchards have been planted in recent years, though, necessitating that late season watering. The change in crops may have made this early end date more noticeable to growers.
Kavarian said as recently as Sept. 3 that growers should not expect last-minute extensions to the irrigation season. The district would use between 7,000 and 10,000 acre-feet of water each week the season is extended, Kavarian said, impairing its ability to prepare for next year.
Despite the district's concern for the years to come, farmers are concerned about the here and now, Conway said.
“I understand the drought situation,” Conway said. “I understand next year we could be in an even worse situation. But we could have a very wet winter, too… We have to live for today, because who knows what's going to happen tomorrow?”
The flow of water from Turlock Lake into TID canals is scheduled to stop on Thursday. Sunday will be the last day to place water orders.
Water will be gradually filtered through the TID system, filling as many growers' orders as possible after the official, Oct. 9 close of irrigation season.
The final week is expected to be very busy, as many growers still have water left in their allotment. Nearly half of the parcels that purchased extra water have yet to use it this year; of 6,000 acre-feet of additional water purchased, only 2,300 acre-feet have been used.