The skies are bright and clear but the future outlook for water isn’t.
That’s why decisions being made this week by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District could be critical not just for farmers in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon but also urban water customers in Manteca, Lathrop, and Escalon.
Each additional day of warm and dry winter weather is putting pressure on the SSJID board to conduct an irrigation run either later this month or in early February to prevent massive losses of alfalfa and other winter crops as well as damaging stress to almond and other trees prior to blossoming. The irrigation season doesn’t start until mid-March.
An early run to give every farm customer using district irrigation water would gobble up twice the amount of water as a typical irrigation run after March. That’s because of the water needed to charge the canals that would then be lost to evaporation or seepage after the run is over.
Based on current weather forecasting models and reservoir storage numbers, the chances are good the district may have to cut urban water deliveries in order to make sure everyone gets water. And even if the situation improves somewhat, there is already pressure on the district to have as much water as feasible and to sell it to other sections of the state that are under more severe drought and water shortage conditions than the South San Joaquin County area.
Not only are many farmers elsewhere in California being forced to leave fields fallow but some may have to tear out orchards as they can’t get water this year to simply keep their fruit trees alive.
Urban water customers such as in the sprawling communities served by the San Juan Irrigation District in Eastern Sacramento County are already being asked to voluntarily stop all outdoor watering of grass and plants. The prospects of that becoming a mandatory order are increasing as each week passes without any additional substantial snowfall in the Sierra or rain.
The SSJID board is considering two things:
* Approval of an early winter run.
* Switching to a 12-day rotation for water deliveries to farms when the irrigation season starts instead of the typical 15 days.
The shorter runs would save water by more effectively moving water in canals.
Under scenarios worked out by SSJID staff, if the district does not do a winter run or switch to the shorter irrigation cycles, it would require almost 450,000 acre feet of water to flow into New Melones prior to Sept. 30 to meet all needs. Given that snowfall is at 20 percent of normal, reservoirs are at a lower level than at the start of the devastating 1977 drought year, and that the forecasts calls for below normal rain and snow in February and March that scenario is extremely likely.
A winter run without a switch to a shorter delivery cycle during the irrigation season would require almost 500,000 acre feet of water flowing into New Melones to meet all current urban and farm needs.
If the 12-day cycle plus an early run would take place, the district could meet all needs if only 150,000 acre feet of water flowed into New Melones.
The district is being helped by 77,645 acre feet in a conservation account they have at New Melones. The ability to carryover water was one of the provisions made by the Bureau of Reclamation in exchange for SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District allowing the federal government to inundate the original Melones Dam the two districts built in 1926.