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Woodward: 68-day reprieve

Deal allows water recreation from May 1 to July 7

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Woodward: 68-day reprieve

This is an aerial photo looking to the northwest of Woodward Reservoir at capacity taken in 2012.

Photo contributed/

POSTED March 26, 2014 2:06 a.m.

Water recreation will be allowed between May 1 and July 7 at Woodward Reservoir under a tentative deal brokered Tuesday.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District will raise the water level to 204 feet to allow what the state refers to as “bodily contact” recreation at the reservoir.

It will require Stanislaus County to pay $50,000 to the SSJID. That’s the difference between repairing damaged screens around an intake for the water treatment plant and buying new screens. The time difference will allow water recreation at the reservoir on Twenty-Six Mile Road 16 miles northeast of Manteca via East Highway 120. If the district opted to repair the screens instead it would cost $50,000 less and require eight more weeks of low water. Stanislaus County has yet to formally agree to the deal.

The SSJID will lose 2,500 acre feet of water or enough to deliver one irrigation run to 27 percent of the farm acreage it serves in Ripon, Escalon, and Manteca. Based on the low end of what water transfers are going for today in California that is the equivalent of $1 million.

SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields noted it will allow recreational use for two of the biggest holidays of the summer season — Labor Day and the Fourth of July.

The need to repair the screens surfaced after the district board decided earlier this year to tentatively not allow any recreation use in a bid to reduce water evaporation and seepage losses. By keeping water levels lower it would save 9,000 acre feet. Water loss due to soil type is much less at district reservoirs in the higher elevations as well as at New Melones.

The district will raise the level from 192 feet to 204 feet by May 1. Then it will lower it in July, August and September before filling up the reservoir in October for carryover into the 2015 season.

“The district’s water situation hasn’t changed,” Shields said Tuesday after the SSJID board meeting. “We will still have to tap our conservation account (at New Melones) to meet our needs this year.”

That includes providing irrigation water to bring crops to market plus 80 percent of surface water deliveries contracted with the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy.

Shields added that the current storm system expected to drop snow in the Sierra and rain in the valley through Tuesday will help “improve things a little bit” but drought conditions are still severe and water storage is at a historical low as is the Sierra snowpack.

The gate receipts from people using Woodward Reservoir between May to October generates roughly $2 million for the Stanislaus County Parks and Recreation Department’s operational budget. The county recreation operation at Woodward Reservoir employs 6 full-time employees and 12 seasonal workers.

“We need to remind everyone that Woodward was built as an irrigation storage reservoir first,” Shields said. “All other uses are secondary.”

California is now in its third year of drought. For the first time ever, neither the State Water Project or Central Valley Water Project plans to deliver water to agricultural users. That means 28 million urban customers that normally use CVP water will have to do without as well as a million acres of farmland.

As a result, farmers are leaving fields fallow and cities throughout the state have started mandating 20 percent cutbacks on water consumption by all users.

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