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SSJID helps farmers weather droughts

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POSTED January 24, 2009 11:34 p.m.
It’s ironic, in a way, that South San Joaquin Irrigation District is celebrating its 100th anniversary as California enters a third year of drought.
The first m
ajor drought hit the South County in 1924. It was so devastating major financial losses were suffered by farmers as well as the communities they traded in.

The SSJID’s first round of irrigation in 1924 was March 29. The district ran out of water and was completely dry when it ended after giving farmers 20 minutes per acre to tap into water. Spring run-off was weak. By the end of April, 22,000 acre feet had accumulated in Woodward Reservoir that holds 36,000 acre feet. Farmers were given their second irrigation run in late April but that was limited to 15 minutes.

The third and last round of irrigation came on June 3, 1924 when the remaining water was released. Irrigation normally takes place from March until October.

The building of Goodwin Dam on the Stanislaus River above Knights Ferry in 1913 and the completion of irrigation canals triggered the rapid spread of farming and prosperity around Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon. As agricultural growth taxed the young SSJID system, the Woodward Reservoir storage facility was added in 1916.

Those two improvements, though, weren’t enough though when drought hit. Voters in 1924 eagerly approved bonds for the Melones Dam. The dam was completed in 1926 and was credited with adding $700,000 in annual crop production (1926 numbers) to the South County region. The Melones Dam also was responsible for avoiding a repeat of 1924 twice when dry years produced little rain or snow.

The Tri-Dam Project on the Stanislaus River – a partnership with Oakdale Irrigation District – in 1955 added additional water resources. The Bureau of Reclamation eventually replaced Melones Dam with New Melones while SSJID and OID continued to have water rights secured by the original dam.

SSJID weathered the drought of 1977 and again in 1982 providing virtually full deliveries. They expect to do the same thing this water year.
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