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SSJID seeks federal funds for water saving effort
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Two months ago South San Joaquin Irrigation District flipped the switch on what is being heralded by green energy folks as the world’s largest tracking thin-panel solar farm that could revolutionize the approach to renewable energy in the sun-rich but dust laden Central Valley.

Now the SSJID is ready to move forward with the Bureau of Reclamation views as a demonstration project to reduce use of water while increasing agricultural production, improving air quality and saving energy.

And just like with the solar farm, the SSJID board will be doing it in such a manner that it maximizes return to its constituents while reducing upfront out-of-pocket costs.

The board on Tuesday is expected to authorize spending $28,410 to retain the services of URS Corporation Americas to help the district fast track an application for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Challenge Grant Program connected with the Recovery Act of 2009 Water Marketing and Efficiency Grants.

The application is due May 22 and targets projects that are ready to turn dirt.

The district hopes to secure 40 percent of the cost of the Division 9 pressurize irrigation line project that will cost $9.1 million.

The district was already planning to use the benefits of the Tri-Dam Project – the $12 million plus a year the district pockets as its share of proceeds after costs of running three hydro-electric plants on the Stanislaus River. The district financed the 50-year bonds to pay for the project through wholesale power sales. It now is using that revenue to position the district to deliver retail power in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon while delivering savings of at least 15 percent across the board compared with what PG&E charges.

 Division 9 – generally southwest of Manteca – has been plagued with salinity problems due to the need of some farmers to irrigate with ground water. There are also pressure issues since it is at the absolute end of the SSJID system.

The price tag includes installing a pressurized irrigation line suitable for drip irrigation as well as associated instrumentation, reservoirs, and other facilities.

Such a system is expected to reduce ground water pumping considerable which will allow salt laden water not to be applied to roots which can be fatal to plants. It will increase irrigation efficiency as water can be directed to precise locations instead of field flooding. The pressurized system would allow everything from drip lines to sprinklers for vineyards and orchards to be put in place.

Such closed systems also can be used to apply fertilize further increasing efficiency, increasing crop yields, and reducing application of fertilizer. All of those are considered goals that will end up reducing water use, increasing production, lowering energy use by eliminating pumping, and improve the environment by cutting air pollution needed to run pumps.

The SSJID board meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district office, 11011 East Highway 120.