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Irrigation District Preps For Emergency
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Members of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board of directors were considering whether to declare a water emergency at their Tuesday meeting, March 13, as The Times was going to press.

The handful of storms in the past month have proved to be too little, too late to break the back of one of the driest winters ever recorded in the Sierra. Even with four wet days forecast this week, the SSJID is expected to only have 80 percent of the water it needs to meet irrigation demands for the rest of the year. Barring a series of spring snow storms pushing biblical proportions, the district will be some 42,000 acre feet of water short.

The agreement the district has with the three cities that currently obtain surface water from the SSJID is that whatever cutback on water deliveries irrigation customers must take, the same percentage reduction will be applied to municipal deliveries. Manteca along with Lathrop and Tracy take water from the SSJID operated Nick DeGroot Surface Water Treatment Plant near the base of Woodward Reservoir. Escalon does not get the surface water yet, but was part of the original agreement to obtain it in the future when the plant was being constructed.

Since early February when the SSJID board first started addressing the 2012 irrigation season, the water outlook from the Sierra snowpack has improved to some extent but not nearly enough. That is prompting staff to recommend that the board consider declaring a water emergency for the 2012 irrigation season. Already, the district offered one rotation, giving farmers the option to take water in a one-time deal a few weeks ago.

If the board moved ahead with the anticipated action Tuesday to make that emergency declaration, they are expected to stick with the April 1 date they tentatively set last month for the start of the irrigation season. If Mother Nature provides the predicted rain this week, it could possibly be enough to tide vineyards and orchards over until the first irrigation run just a few weeks away. Weather forecasters are calling for rain showers throughout the week, with rain on Wednesday with a high of 67 degrees. The chance of rain continues Wednesday night through Friday, with an added chance of thunderstorms and possibly small hail on Saturday and Sunday, with lows Sunday night dipping down near the freezing mark. The chance of rain lingers in to Monday, March 19.

The board also has discussed other measures such as reducing the elevation of Woodward Reservoir from 210 to 205 feet to reduce the surface area and therefore cut down on the water loss from evaporation. Among the strategies to stretch water supplies is the potential implementation of extended rotation schedules for irrigation runs.

By declaring a water emergency, the board can also allocate water according to the type of crop.

The SSJID provides irrigation water for approximately 72,000 acres of agriculture surrounding Escalon, Ripon, and Manteca.

Escalon Times Editor Marg Jackson contributed to this report.