The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors just barely approved, on a 3-2 vote, to allow a record-low 18 inches, a reduction of 62 percent from a normal year, to growers for the 2015 irrigation season.
The resolution approved by TID will set the irrigation season to begin on April 9 and continue through Oct. 7, shorter than in normal years. The TID Irrigation Call Center will be activated and begin accepting water orders on April 8.
TID is experiencing its fourth year of a drought — and the four driest years on record — thus Board approved an amount of water lower than last year’s previous record low of 20 inches; in normal years, TID growers receive 48 inches of water.
“It’s quite clear that we will have an extremely dry 2015, making it the fourth year of a drought,” said Tou Her, Assistant General Manager of Water Resources. “It’s also quite clear, very clear, that this will be the driest four years, period, in the history of TID."
According to TID, the full natural flow of the Tuolumne River is 13 percent of the historical average, so far during the water year. Additionally, snowpack levels within the Tuolumne River watershed are at an abysmal 3.8 percent of average, with no significant precipitation on the weather forecast.
While TID approved a record-low water allotment for 2015, some directors felt that less water should be allowed to help save some for next year, in case dry conditions continue.
Under the approved resolution, there is no expected carryover of water for irrigation purposes for next year; TID will only insure that there is enough water in Don Pedro to meet regulatory requirements.
“With the recommendation of 18 inches, that means we will plan to have zero inches carryover next year for irrigation purposes,” said Her.
Veteran Directors Charlie Fernandes and Rob Santos, who casted the dissenting votes, argued that it was important to give growers water to survive this year, while still planning for next year.
“We should be lowering the amount allowed and keeping some [water] for next year,” said Fernandes. “The way things are looking right now, it could be another dry year."
Feasibly, if the drought continues into next year, there could be little to no water at all for growers in TID.
“So if next year is dry, we could be the Merced Irrigation District — with no water,” said Santos. "…You're not looking to the future, it doesn't make any sense."
Despite that risk, Directors Ron Macedo, Joe Alamo, and Michael Frantz supported to allow the 18 inches this year.
“I like your proposal. I think that 16 inches versus 18 inches is a big deal this year. A 2 inch pop is hugely welcome to the farming community,” said Frantz. “I don’t like us not having any carryover either, but…we have little choice but to give the water we do have to the community to be put to its best use, so I support the 18-inch proposition."
Macedo argued that saving 2 to 3 inches this year, wouldn’t do enough good next year to make it worth saving.
For months, TID has been discussing the possibility of allowing only 15 to 16 inches of water — a number that was expected to decrease if hydrological conditions worsened, as they did.
To deliver the 18 inches, which is is the largest amount proposed by staff so far this year, TID is banking on receiving some help from the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF).
Recently, 220,000 acre-feet of water has been moved from upper storage to lower storage in CCSF. TID has been in talks with San Francisco and expects that water to be released into Don Pedro, giving the district extra water they did not original plan to have.
That water, however, does not come without risks. With the release of 220,000 acre-feet this year, San Francisco will be able to withhold another 220,000 acre-feet next year, according to Santos.
Additionally, while TID is planning on that water being available this irrigation season, Fernandes questioned what would happen if CCSF later chose not to release the water into Don Pedro, as there is no requirement to do so.
“Well there’s no guarantee that that will happen,” said Fernandes. “That’s my real concern, [CCSF] can change their mind any time they want. There’s no contract that they’re going to release that water."
In addition to the water TID hopes to receive from CCSF, the district will pump an additional 90,000 acre-feet of water from drainage and rented wells.
Once again TID will be renting pumps from customers and offering those customers 12 inches of water, however not all customers will be used for pumping. TID will not be pumping from wells in a portion of its service area — east of Faith Home Road and north of Harding Road.
Per the approved resolution, TID will have a “soft cap” for the second year in a row, allowing growers to get an additional 2 acre-inches of water to finish their final irrigation of the season.
With dry conditions and low water, growers will be paying some larger prices for water this year, per the new irrigation rate schedule approved last year.