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Irrigation Season Now Open
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Much of California may be in dire straits when it comes to adequate water supplies, but the South San Joaquin Irrigation District is sitting pretty.

"It looks like we're going to have 100 percent of our deliveries for our farmers," explained SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields. "Our system is in relatively good shape, but we are asking our farmers and urban water users to use less water if at all possible."

With the state as a whole having a below average rainfall for the year, many locations are not anticipating a full allotment. Shields said SSJID board members have asked for participation in a state conservation program, encouraging users to cut back and take steps to make sure the water they get is fully utilized.

"We do have to find a way to participate," Shields said of the statewide conservation effort in what is considered a drought year. "We can't ignore that the rest of the state is having trouble.

"We've instructed all of our water division managers to consult with the various growers, make sure fields are leveled and properly bermed so there's no undue runoff ... the board has also asked us to work with the county and our cities to come up with some conservation measures for our urban users."

South San Joaquin gets an allotment of 300,000 acre feet annually.

"Of that, we sell 15,000 acre feet annually to the Stockton East Water District, 39,000 acre feet is allocated to cities through the water treatment plant and the balance goes to our irrigation system," Shields explained.

The SSJID will also be more proactive his year in seeking out "ineligible water users," said Shields, those that have received water in the past but were ineligible due to non-payment or other reasons.

The canal system in the SSJID was charged March 18 and 19, with the canals filling up with water. First deliveries were made late night March 19 or early morning March 20, said Shields.

"Woodward Reservoir was at 204.5 feet the other day and we try to be at 205 by April 1," Shields noted. "So we planned to do the final release on Tuesday (March 31) and open it up for bodily contact."

That means that as of April 1, the reservoir will be at its 'lake level' of 205 and can be used for swimming and boating. Though why anyone right now would want to swim in 'ice cold water' from the winter runoff is beyond him, Shields said.

Still, it will be open for those brave enough to dive in.

Also prior to the start of the irrigation season, SSJID embarked on a massive building and maintenance list of projects, with 28 total completed during the winter months 'off season' for the district.

"We created 350 construction jobs for the winter and had one change order," Shields said of the work "It was money well spent, we got rewarded for the volume of work we did."

Total project cost was some $7 million but Shields said engineers estimate the cost was $5 million less than if the work had been done last year. Taking advantage of the downturn in the economy and seizing the opportunity to create jobs to aid that same economy, Shields said it was a win-win situation for the district and its customers. Miles of pipeline were replaced, shotcrete work was done to improve the canals themselves and a variety of other efforts got the system in top shape for the irrigation season just under way.

"Contractors bid very aggressively," Shields said. "These are people that had been putting in subdivisions and roads."

With the housing market cooling, those contractors could easily switch gears for the irrigation district projects.

"The quality of work was great," said Shields.

Work done in the Escalon area included replacing pipeline along the railroad tracks at the 'B' lateral and they also oversaw replacement of a bridge over the canal on McBride Avenue.

"We also did about three miles of shotcrete work in the Ripon and Escalon areas, lining canals," said Sam Bologna, SSJID Engineering Department Manager.

Among the area firms taking part in some of the projects were Ross F. Carroll and Clyde Wheeler Pipeline.

A total of seven miles of pipeline were replaced at various locations around the 72,000 acre district, Bologna added.

The ambitious schedule originally threw Bologna, he said, but having two inspectors out in the field and working diligently, the projects got done.

"Normally we don't do that many jobs in a year," he said, noting that the work was compressed into a few months. "This year they (SSJID board) brought their 'five-year list' and said do as many as we can this year."

Part of the work was valve replacement and Bologna said that was beneficial for the farmers, since they came with a warranty and the district was able to help finance some of that. And despite the periodic interruptions for canal and bridge work, not to mention digging up pipelines, Bologna said residents were very understanding of the work being done and there were no serious problems that arose out of the projects.

"For as many things as we did, to not have any complaints," Bologna said, "that's great. We did a lot of extra work and it really is a sense of accomplishment."