May 14, 2013

Turlock Irrigation District farmers can get a splash more water

The Turlock Irrigation District board today approved a small increase in the amount of water available to its farmers. The cap is now 34 inches per acre over the 2013 irrigation season, up from the 30 inches set in February amid concerns about dry conditions.

Farmers in the Turlock Irrigation District got a small boost Tuesday in the amount of water available this year.

The district board voted 3-2 to raise the cap to 34 vertical inches per acre, up from the 30 inches approved in February amid concern about low rainfall and snowpack numbers.

The level still is much less than the 48 inches per acre — four acre-feet — that farmers typically can get when water is adequate.

Board member Joe Alamo, who proposed the change, said it especially will help growers of feed crops in soil that drains quickly. He also noted that dry, windy weather this spring has drawn moisture from crops.

"It's still the third-lowest allowance on record since Don Pedro was built," Alamo said, referring to the Tuolumne River reservoir completed in 1971.

Board members Rob Santos and Ron Macedo supported the increase. Charles Fernandes and Michael Frantz were opposed.

Frantz said staying at 30 inches would help the district prepare for a possible third straight dry year in 2014. He is especially concerned about having at least 24 inches next year for orchard crops.

"We are in a critically dry year," Frantz said. "It's the second year in a row of substantially below-average rainfall, and I am very cautious."

The resolution raising the cap also directs the staff to conserve water. This includes watching for theft and carefully managing flows at the canal ends, where the supply spills into other waterways.

The TID, the largest irrigation district in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, serves an area from south Modesto to northern Merced County and west to the San Joaquin River.

Despite this year's reduced supply, the district is doing better than many water suppliers in the west and south valley. Some of them are getting just 20 percent of their contracted volume from the federal Central Valley Project because of drought and fish protections.

The Modesto Irrigation District, also supplied from Don Pedro, has a basic allotment of 36 inches this year. Farmers can get limited amounts above that at higher rates.

The storm season had started strong, with rainfall well above average and snow in November and December. The weather was mostly dry from January to March, usually the peak of the season.

The snowpack in the central Sierra Nevada stood at 23 percent of average as of last week, the California Department of Water Resources reported. It is the main water source for north valley farms and homes.

Reservoir storage is a relatively bright spot. Don Pedro is at 99 percent of the historical average for this time of year, the state reported.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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