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SSJID wants to share water to help areas hard hit by drought

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POSTED May 10, 2010 2:19 a.m.
Helping “neighbors” in California who need water isn’t a simple - or cheap - task.

It involves lawyers and environmental reports plus requires the state’s blessing. And even in a declared emergency, you shouldn’t expect any rapid decisions in the regulatory process required to transfer water within the state’s boundaries.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District board on Tuesday during their 9 a.m. meeting at the district office, 11011 East Highway 120, will review the initial environmental study and mitigated negative declaration to transfer up to 50,000 acre feet of water to the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority.

The authority wheels water for irrigation districts supplying farmers and water districts serving East Bay cities that have been hard hit by three straight years of drought.

The SSJID has had to spend $47,000 to have the necessary environmental documents produced and reviewed. The process started in late December.

And even though the Sierra snowpack is helping fill California’s reservoirs, farmers and many other users aren’t being promised full deliveries this year due to the need to meet court-imposed flows for fish.

The state has been anything but nimble in approving water transfers that are designed to ease the impacts of the drought. It took close to a month last year for the state to OK transferring 35,000 acre feet of water to the San Luis-Delta agency. And that was three months after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide emergency due to a third year of drought and called upon Californians to help others by conserving and sharing water.

The San Luis-Delta authority represents a number of water agencies serving 2.1 million acres of farmland in the western San Joaquin Valley as well as San Benito and Santa Clara counties. The Delta-Mendota Canal delivers about 3 million acre feet of water within the authority’s service area. Those deliveries were slashed by as much as 85 percent last year.

As a result, many farmers have plowed under crops and pulled out orchards. Water is critical for those who kept crops in the ground can make sure they survive to the point they can be harvested.

Estimates from University of California Davis economists have indicated up to 80,000 jobs and upwards of $2.2 billion will disappear from the San Joaquin Valley alone due to reduced water supplies.

SSJID water sales
to other agencies
generated $6.8M
Aggressive conservation efforts by SSJID ditch tenders and farmers last year freed up 30,000 acre feet of water to assist other regions hard hit by California’s third straight year of drought.

The water sold in 2009 to San Luis-Delta was at $250 an acre foot and generated $6.25 million.

The City of Stockton paid $150 an acre foot for 4,000 acre feet of water last year to provide the SSJID with $600,000. The East Stockton Water District paid $20 an acre foot for 1,000 are feet in 2009 to generate $20,000.

The district is using the additional income to redouble its efforts to conserve water and improve delivery to district farmers.

An example of how they put such revenue for water sales to work can be found in the project now underway southwest of Manteca in district nine.

There are serious problems due to salinity that is caused by ground water being pumped with irrigation water to provide adequate supplies for crops. The need to supplement the surface water is based on the fact district nine is at the end of the system.

Salinity ultimately renders soil sterile.

The SSJID is putting in place a closed system. It reduces water waste through flooding and evaporation while also allowing farmers a way to control placement of water that they can also combine with liquid fertilizer.

Ultimately it means farmers will need less water to provide the same amount of yield from crops.

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