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Dry December may mean early irrigation run
Woodward Reservoir was at capacity at the end of October to help provide the SSJID with a cushion. - photo by Bulletin photo

It’s shaping up as one of the driest Decembers ever on the Stanislaus River watershed.

And if it continues through January, it could start putting almond orchards and vineyards under stress around Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.

It is why the South San Joaquin Irrigation District is working on wrapping up repair and maintenance work on its canals by the start of February. That way, if the board determines it is necessary, irrigation runs could start. The earliest irrigation runs that have started in the past is mid-February.

The SSJID board will be taking a close look at the situation during their first meeting in January.

“We have already been contacted by some farmers about irrigation,” noted SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields.

Most of the inquiries from farmers are about using district canals to send water they would pump from private underground wells to irrigate their farmland. Shields said they are looking at the requests on a case-by-case basis to see if it is feasible due to work now underway.

“We have our canal system tore up for maintenance,” Shields said.

While the lack of snow fall isn’t making Shields happy, it isn’t making him nervous.

New Melones Reservoir has 1.9 million square feet of water behind it including the complete allotment that SSJID has rights to for the 2012 irrigation season.

And if a run has to start before SSJID releases can be made in the spring from New Melones, Woodward Reservoir is at a high level. That is thanks in large part to the Bureau of Reclamation using the SSJID system to divert excess water around the Stanislaus River to make minimal disruption to fish during the spawning season that even higher river flows would have caused.

That meant SSJID was delivering irrigation water as late as Halloween. And although that is an usually late time to cut off water deliveries, it worked well since October was dry.

Statewide, the snowpack is now at 24 percent of normal. That compares to 210 percent of normal at this time in 2010.