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State-of-the-art irrigation delivery system

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SSJID board member Dave Kamper, second from left, stands atop the lateral “V” outlet pumping station that is part of the Division 9 irrigation enhancement project.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED June 2, 2012 2:49 a.m.

RIPON – Some farmers are now able to order their water deliveries from their iPhones.

After Friday’s official dedication, those that are part of the project that is three-years in the making are the first in the country to utilize a state-of-the-art pressurized water delivery system designed to maximize water efficiency and provide individualized, personal water orders.

The $14 million project, paid for with Tri-Dam System revenues and grant money, will cut down on South San Joaquin Irrigation District water that ends up back in the Stanislaus River and provide growers with water when they need it. Under the old system, most have to wait 10 days between runs which can be forever if they pass up a cycle.

A handful of issues also cropped up that the district had to address.

“This project wasn’t built because we needed something to do. The irrigation service component of this project was conceived because growers in this immediate area were coming into our office and complaining that the groundwater was getting too salty to apply to permanent crops and the cost of running pumps was chewing up profits,” SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said. “With increasing numbers of growers abandoning groundwater and coming back onto the surface water flood irrigation system or using the flood system for their drip and sprinkler operation, we simply had no more capacity to meet their needs.

“So we were faced with the challenge of tearing out miles of pipelines and replacing them with larger pipe or finding a way to irrigate this land with less water. Either option was going to be disruptive and expensive.”

And technology will likely revolutionize the way that water is not only delivered but monitored as well to farmland west of Ripon and south of Manteca.

Sensors that are placed in the ground will measure moisture and let curious growers know exactly what their needs are. Visiting a website on their home computer or tracking it from a handheld smart device – iPhones and iPads are both said to work with the system – will provide the information on a page that will allow for a delivery to be called for.

While it’s a stark departure from the way that agriculture has been approached in the area for decades, younger generations that are set to take over operations at some point are more likely to pick up and embrace the new technology. It is something that SSJID Engineering Department Manager Sam Bologna said he has already seen playing itself out.

“We had a father out here with his son that will more than likely take over the operation and he’s already up to speed on the system – we expected that would be the case with the younger generations that are savvier with technology,” Bologna said – noting that he expected either the board or Shields to pull the plug after a certain period of time but they consistently backed his vision. “We’re expecting great results from this system and I definitely think that in the future we can expect to see this system grow into other areas.

“It’s been a long time coming but it’s up and running and we’ve been getting good feedback. Now I can sleep at night.”

 StanTec Engineering was tapped to design the system while Knife River Construction handled building it. The project required 30 miles of trenching and piping through farms that were engaged in harvesting, pruning, irrigating and fertilizing.

With all of the benefits easily identifiable, the board threw their weight behind the project and is optimistic that it could set the tone for the future of irrigation.

“This is a demonstration project and that means that we’re trying to demonstrate that we can improve crop production while using less water and energy,” said director Dale Kuil. “The board is dedicating this project to the growers that have been our partners through the investments in the dams, power plants and canals over the last 100 years. It is your support for those investments that makes this project possible.

“With your cooperation and patience, our hope is that we can learn the things necessary to expand this system in the future to more of the land across the service area.”

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