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SSJID could cut water use by 25%

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POSTED April 21, 2015 1:53 a.m.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District has a plan to free up 73,000 acre feet of water that could be used to grow food in the southern valley, send water through municipal faucets, and help provide critical flows to fish or improve the quality of river water.

 But before they can move forward and reduce district water consumption by 25 percent they need the state’s guarantee they can sell the water they save to finance pressurization of the balance of the SSJID system.

The Division 9 system south of Manteca and west of Ripon was pressurized four years ago at a cost of $15 million. It has slashed water use while also significantly increasing yields, reducing the use of chemicals and fertilizer as well as drastically cutting electrical demand to run pumps.

The cost of the overall conversion could easily exceed $100 million

Preliminary engineering by Stantec Consulting as well as Davis Engineering as part of a $750,000 feasibility study commissioned by the SSJID shows at least 73,000 acre feet of water could be conserved yearly by converting all of the district farmland to pressurized delivery.

SSJID envisions selling conserved water to other districts to pay for the cost.

The state Department of Water Resources earlier this year issued an edict that water transfers of “unused water” cannot take place and that all such “surplus” water would be forfeited to state control as it “would not constitute a beneficial use.”

The SSJID board earlier this month directed staff to move ahead with preliminary design work while meeting with the DWR and the governor’s staff to secure their support.

“We want to work with the Department of Water Resources as well as with the governor to meet their goals and provide water that can help California,” said SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields.

A meeting has already been set up with the DWR.

The DWR in 2011 indicated an average Californian uses 360 gallons of water a day. An acre-foot translates into 325,851 gallons. The 73,000 acre feet is enough water to meet the needs of 181,000 people a year or the combined populations of Tracy, Manteca, Ripon, and then some.

Three quarters of an acre foot a year is required to grow all of the food an individual consumes annually.  The water saved — if used for other agricultural uses — would raise enough food for 97,333 people.

The 25 percent reduction also would serve as a major demonstration of what pressurization can do to keep California agriculture — that the United States Department of Agriculture points out has 43 percent of this nation’s farm acreage devoted to fruits, vegetables and nuts — feeding the country and the world while at the same time reducing water use and possibly even increasing production.

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