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SSJID May Shed Canals For Pipes
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South San Joaquin Irrigation District may take water conservation to the next level.

A $750,000 engineering study now under way will determine the feasibility of replacing the entire district’s open canal system with buried pipes from Goodwin Dam on the Stanislaus River all the way to the far reaches of the district west of Ripon and south of Manteca.

It would eliminate the district’s $300,000-plus per year electricity costs to power pumps along its canals. It also could save each farming operation as much as $20,000 a year in power costs associated with pumping water out of SSJID canals and onto their fields.

As an added bonus, the water the district has the potential to save by eliminating evaporation beyond Goodwin Dam could be the equivalent of printing money.

The district’s Division 9 project south of Manteca and west of Ripon – its first effort at closed irrigation – has reduced water consumption by 11,000 acre feet in the last two-and-a-half years. The water saved from Division 9 and elsewhere in the district through conservation practices the district has helped institute on individual farms allowed for the transfer of 40,000 acre feet of water to the Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority. The authority serves numerous urban and irrigation districts. The sales brought $4 million into the SSJID coffers.

SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said the study will provide the board with various scenarios starting with putting everything under gravity flow from Goodwin Dam to just having parts of the system enclosed.

Shields noted the potential exists to not only eliminate the cost of running pumps but it would also greatly reduce maintenance costs since pipelines need little or no attention compared to annual canal maintenance. It also would eliminate the dangers associated with canals such as people or animals getting into them and drowning.

Shields noted the district study will also look at the impacts a closed system would have on the cities of Ripon, Escalon and Manteca that use existing SSJID canals as part of their storm drainage system. If the district does enclose everything, Shields said the canals in parts of the district may remain in place for storm runoff.

Shields said the cost of converting the entire district is expected to be high but receipts from water sales from conserved water plus Tri-Dam receipts would be used to cover the expense.

In a closed system scenario, Woodward Reservoir would serve as an off-line storage facility as well as the supplier of urban water for Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy. The system would be designed to allow Woodward Reservoir to be tapped for late season irrigation needs.

There is also another bonus of having irrigation water enter a pipe system at Goodwin.

“The water would be almost as clean as you can get,” Shields noted. “It would be Sierra water quality.”

That’s because water moving through the district in canals collects dirt, weeds and other debris.

The study by Stantec is expected to take 11 months.