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Conservation - Farmers Partner Up With SSJID Effort
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Farmers in Escalon, Ripon and Manteca are eager to partner with South San Joaquin Irrigation District in a bid to enhance water conservation.

Thirty-eight growers in less than 10 days submitted applications for 68 different properties in a bid to take advantage of the SSJID's $1.1 million water conservation program. The first-come, first-served program had 25 applications on Feb. 10, the first day they were being accepted. As of Friday, Feb. 18, there was still $423,239 available for the program this year.

The board was scheduled to meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the SSJID headquarters in Manteca, after The Times went to press, and was expected to consider reallocating money from other conversation programs to the effort to convert acres now being flood irrigated to drip irrigation. It is by far the most popular program with growers, with requests exceeding the $313,459 budget by $188,459.

The initial $1.1 million program for 2011 is designed to increase water use efficiency while at the same time lowering cost production for farmers. The strategy is to help farmers stay economically viable while at the same time meeting emerging state regulations that are essential for protecting the district's surface water rights.

There are indirect benefits for the district's urban customers. By increasing the efficiency of farming and reducing costs, it will enhance the value of vineyards and orchards further to make it viable for long-term farming to help resist development pressures.

Also by reducing water waste, it reduces the pressure on limited supplies of water to assure that cities as well as farmers have a secure source of surface water to meet future needs.

It is yet another benefit of the "Tri-Dam Project" profits that are now generating well over $10 million a year from wholesale power sales for the SSJID. The district has an undistributed reserve pushing $70 million. They are using the Tri-Dam Project proceeds as the financial linchpin to enter the retail power service in an effort to reduce rates at least 15 percent across the board compared to what PG&E charges. The proceeds are also being used to convert open canals to pressurized delivery systems to reduce water waste and increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent.

The minimum field size for consideration for the on-farm water conservation program is 10 acres. The district will consider smaller parcels on a case-by-case basis to determine if adequate water savings can be accomplished to justify the investment.

There are three primary areas that farmers can get cost sharing although the district is open to other methods.

One is measurement for pumped deliveries. It involves installing a flow meter. The district's cost share for delivery management via pumped deliveries will be 80 percent of the actual cost but not more than $4,500.

Converting from flood irrigation to sprinkler or drip/micro irrigation is another way. The conservation measure includes the installation of the pump, filtration, mainlines, laterals, and emitters for the system. Adoption of the conservation measure requires installation of an SSJID approvable pump to allow for the pumping of canal water along with installing flow meters. The district will pay for 50 percent of the cost of such systems but not more than $825 per acre of production.

The third method is putting in place a tail water recovery system to prevent runoff of excess water. It would involve collecting and conveying the excess water back to the head of the field from which the tail water was generated or to a nearby field for the purpose of recovering and reapplying the tail water to supplement irrigation.