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Manteca rain at historic low; farmers seek SSJID water run
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It hasn’t rained for more than 40 days and 40 nights.

Tioga and Sonora passes are open with no restrictions despite more than two weeks into winter.

There is no snow on the Stanislaus River watershed and the mid-Sierra survey of water content in what snow is on the ground is at 19 percent of normal and dropping each day.

Almond growers - who never irrigate in early January, are worried the lack of precipitation may hurt their trees and ultimately crop yield.

It is against that backdrop that the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board Tuesday will debate whether to release an extremely unusual early winter irrigation run. A growing number of farmers served by SSJID are requesting irrigation water more than a month before the earliest time it would normally start.

In a report to the board, SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields indicated the district has stepped up various maintenance projects to complete them by Jan. 16. They are also postponing work on the Main Supply Canal below Schell Road in order to be able to bring water out of Goodwin Dam at any time.

That means the board when they meet Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the district office, 11011 E. Highway 120, could order water to be drawn out of Goodwin immediately and sent to Woodward Reservoir. That means irrigation water could flow to South County farmers sometime mid-month.

Shields said the amount of measureable precipitation in the Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon is at a historic low since recordings started being kept in the late 1800s. There was no precipitation in December.

The board could decide to condition their decision on whether a storm forecast for Jan. 18 materializes and if it does whether it is strong enough to add sufficient moisture to the soil. If it is a weak storm, the district would be in a position to start irrigating immediately.

The board will be supplied with data gleaned from soil moisture monitoring stations throughout the district when they make their decision.

The Modesto Irrigation District has already committed to delivering winter water to their farmers.

Shields and his staff have modeled a worst-case scenario if there is no future precipitation of any measure and there is minimal additional inflow into New Melones. In such a case, there would be 135,000 acre feet of water available for irrigation which would fall short of the need.