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Irrigation run, rain help ease farmers concerns
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The pair of storms that brought a healthy helping of rain to the valley and a dusting of snow to the Sierra over the weekend was a welcome sight to farmers.

But it wasn’t the only water that they got to keep their crops adequately irrigated after more than a month without any rain.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District made the unusual move of a mid-January irrigation run to provide water to those who wished to take it.

The move meant charging the system that includes a myriad of pipelines and canals that distribute water to smaller canals that are accessible by growers that needed water. Nearly 8,000 acre-feet of water will have passed through that system by the time that staff cuts off the supply on Thursday morning.

“That storm really did a lot of good for us – it did a lot here locally and it helped out a lot up in the higher elevations in the Sierra,” said SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields. “Now if we can only get three or four more of those.”

 While the early run could end up costing farmers that took SSJID water - they likely won’t be able to take a late season delivery while those that passed this time wil be able to take water then - – it hasn’t affected the overall storage capacity for the district.

Currently Woodward Reservoir is just 10 feet shy of its capacity elevation after the irrigation release. The healthy snow fall has helped dump what will amount to tens of thousands of acre-feet of water at higher elevation points like Strawberry and Donnell’s. They are the highest of the three reservoirs the Tri-Dam Project located just under the 5,000-foot elevation mark on the Stanislaus River.

Lake Tulloch, the lowest of the three dams, could end up with a peak inflow of more than 7,600 acre-feet of water if the snowpack remains steady throughout the rest of the winter. That would mean that water from Donnell’s and Beardsley – the other two dams in the project – had already moved through the power generating facilities.

According to Frank Avila, SSJID’s Telemetry Systems Supervisor and SCADA technician, all of the water that was temporarily stored in Van Groningen Reservoir – a temporary holding bay for 900 acre-feet of water – should be out by Thursday morning to end the first irrigation run of the season.

Even though it isn’t common for a need this early in the season, Avila said that the last time the district released water this early it was close to the same amount.