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Water: It’s what SSJID has & others want

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POSTED March 23, 2013 2:13 a.m.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District has something that everyone else in California wants - water.

Other water purveyors have started knocking on SSJID’s door asking to buy water as 2013 has been the second driest year so far on record. The interest started before Friday when the Bureau of Reclamation said it would only deliver 20 percent of requested deliveries to farms this year and 70 percent to municipal and industrial contractors. The State Water Project said it will deliver only 35 percent of contacted water.

And given the SSJID’s long-term planning and cutting edge commitment to conservation, the district is in a position to help other districts while assisting with minimal flows from New Melones Reservoir for the Stanislaus River watershed plus potentially make millions of dollars.

 The SSJID board has been approached by other agencies including the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority that serves a number of irrigation districts.

The board will talk about possible water sales when they meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. at district headquarters, 11011 East Highway 120.

“We have plenty of water to meet our needs,” noted SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields.

Shields expects the district to make full deliveries to farmers as well as the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy. As of Friday, the district has 70,000 acre feet of water squirreled away in their conservation account at New Melones Reservoir.

The district’s water position - the envy of many California irrigation districts - is the direct result of foresight 103 years ago as well as forward thinking since then that prompted district boards to use local resources and not state and federal assistance to develop water rights, reservoirs, and delivery systems.

Continued investment in water conservation - the district has spent $3.75 million over the past three years helping farmers put in systems to recycle water back into their fields that would have previously been run-off from irrigation - is paying off. The district is also getting significant savings from the cutting edge closed irrigation delivery system in Division 9 south of Manteca and west of Ripon that was finished last year.

It eliminates water waste that occurs via evaporation with flood irrigation or using sprinklers. Instead pipes and tubes delivery water directly to the tree roots. The system allows farmers a way to control placement of water that they can also combine with liquid fertilizer.

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

The district could opt to put in more closed systems throughout the South County further reducing water usage while at the same time protecting district farmers by assuring tight water times in the future won’t cripple them as it has in other areas of California.

The current system was paid in part from Tri Dam System revenues that the district is also working toward using to reduce electricity rates 15 percent across the board in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.

The $3.75 million paid for the water conservation project at individual farming operations was more than covered by water sales during the last period of drought.

In 2009 SSJID transactions sent 4,000 acre feet to the City of Stockton for municipal water uses and 1,000 acre feet to the East Stockton Water District for agricultural purposes. That is in addition to 25,000 acre feet that was part of an emergency deal to the San Luis-Delta Mendota Water Agency that helped keep thousands of acres of permanent crops alive in the water starved western side of the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Altogether water sales in 2009 to outside districts earned the SSJID $6.25 million.

Friday’s announced cutbacks in water deliveries from the two major water supply systems in California are “making a bad situation even worse,” according to Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

“Farmers were already looking at reduced water supplies caused primarily by federal regulations to protect fish in the Delta,” he said. “More than 800,000 acre-feet of water was taken earlier this year from farmers and folks who live in our cities because of the regulations.”

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