Even though this year's robust rainy season isn't over yet, when it comes to water, the Merced Irrigation District is riding high.
And that's upbeat news for farmers.
Rain and runoff have already filled up MID's reservoir -- Lake McClure -- to more than 90 percent of normal, which could make the coming irrigation season a happy one for the district and local farmers.
The district's board of directors Tuesday gave General Manager John Sweigard the OK to start the irrigation season whenever he sees fit, without any curtailments, according to Hicham Eltal, deputy general manager.
Compared to recent years, this season is looking much better when it comes to water, said Eltal. "We are definitely a lot better than last year and a lot better than the year before," he said.
While a three-year drought and cutbacks in other parts of the Valley have hurt the farming industry, Merced growers served by MID have skirted such water delivery reductions despite almost facing a curtailment last year as they did in 2008.
In 2009, a late spring storm dumped enough water into the reservoir so that there was enough for the district's farmers.
This year is looking even better.
For February, the district's reservoir holds 200,000 acre-feet more than it did in 2008. "This year could be an above-normal year," said Eltal. (An acre-foot is equivalent to 326,000 gallons or enough water for a year for a typical Valley family.)
The last curtailment in the district was in 2008, and before that in 1992.
Eltal said the wet season may actually bring a later opening to the irrigation season. With all the rain, the canals are already part full.
There's also less demand from farmers since their fields are getting rained on, he said.
Amanda Carvajal, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, said the rain this season is a blessing for farmers in Merced.
"I believe the farming community is very excited about the amount of rain we are receiving. It should give us some relief from the drought," she wrote in a statement. "However, it is still extremely critical for farmers on the Westside since they will only receive a small portion of their allotment at this time."
David Robinson, agricultural commissioner for Merced County, said so far the rainfall looks good for the county. But he isn't going to count on a really good water supply for crops this summer until the snowpack report later in the year.
Despite these reservations, he was fairly upbeat on the subject. "It's the best we've had in three years," he said. "That's for certain."
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at the (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.