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Pressurization would put SSJID on cutting edge of conservation

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POSTED August 6, 2013 1:29 a.m.

Conserving water saves money.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District has significantly reduced water used for irrigation in Division 9 south of Manteca and west of Ripon thanks to a pressurized system controlled by computers that went operational two years ago. The savings came despite adding dozens of orchards and other farm operations to the system that previously relied on ground water.

The water they saved from the project generated more than enough revenue in sales to other water purveys to allow the SSJID board Monday to spend $750,000 to see if the Division 9 success story can be replicated district wide. The study is expected to take a year to complete.

If a study shows it is possible, pressurization would revolutionize the district business and operational models making it the only known water district in the United States to mesh cutting edge tablet and smartophone technology with the latest drip irrigation advances.

The end result could include:

•Significant reduction in water use and losses as pressurized drip reduces evaporation seepage and also waste as water is applied directly where it is needed. The district’s abundance of orchards and vineyards makes drip irrigation feasible on a large scale. It also would eliminate spillage at the end of district canals into creeks and sloughs.

•A drastic reduction on pumping from underground  aquifers which in turn could help combat salt water intrusion issues for nearby cities, farmers who aren’t accessing SSJID water, and private residences that rely on well water.

•Essentially expand the effectiveness of SSJID water supplies during dry periods by being able to irrigate more crops with less water.

•Reducing costs to growers by reducing water use and providing a pressurized system where fertilizer and other applications can be applied via closed system. It also has the potential to cut electricity consumption.

•Reduce air pollution by eliminating diesel powered pumps used by farmers as well as the district.

•Making it possible for the SSJID to further reduce costs by field manpower that comes from the need to constantly repair and maintain open canals.

•Eliminate safety hazards posed by open canals.

•Increase district revenues via the sale of conserved water through out-of-district purveyors.

The proposed pressurization could have an impact on ground water recharging since it eliminates water spillage at the end of the SSJID system and could drastically reduce flood irrigation. Some 40 percent of the 250,000 acre feet of the water the SSJID imports from the Stanislaus River watershed ends up recharging aquifers The biggest source of groundwater recharge in the region is from the district’s Woodward Reservoir. That would not change.

Converting to a closed system also would mean how the cities of Escalon and Manteca use the district’s canal systems for storm run-off may have to change.

SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields noted the district employed a system similar to the ones that airlines use to allow travelers to book flights on line to allow farmers in District 9 to use tablets or smartphones to book water deliveries. He said that if the system is implemented, ditch tenders would be seated behind computers much of the time monitoring water flows and not having to drive along canals all hours of the day to open gates and lift irrigation boards.

Groundwater salinity concerns prompted the board to implement the Division 9 pressurized system

The Division 9 systems coupled with a three-year investment of $4.5 million to help farmers throughout the district implement more efficient farming practices has saved the district over $3.5 million so far. Both the growers’ conservation program and the Division 9 pressurized system also saved enough water to allow SSJID to net $4 million more in out-of-district water sales to other water purveyors.

Shields noted that pressurization of the entire district will not impact the SSJID efforts to use Tri-Dam receipts to reduce retail electrical rates by at least 15 percent in Manteca, Escalon, and Ripon.

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