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March showers helps SSJID growers
Enough rainfall to delay irrigation start until April
Woodward Reservoir – the last storage component for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District system – was at 197.4 feet on Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO
The rain so far this month is far from being a drought breaker but it will help South San Joaquin Irrigation District stretch available water supplies by delaying the need to start irrigation runs until early April.

The SSJID board meets Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the district office, 11011 E. Highway 120, to make a final decision on the irrigation start date plus discuss ways the district may help others in California as the water year progresses.

General Manager Jeff Shields, in a report to the board, noted forecasts call for four to five days of off and on showers starting March 15. The National Weather Service anticipates March will deliver average precipitation – 2.3 inches – after two months of below normal rainfall. That, coupled with temperatures expected to remain in the mid-60s through at least March 21 are expected to work to the advantage of the district to postpone the start of irrigation until April.

The district is now expected to have enough water on hand to meet their needs thanks to the wet February and storms so far this month. That means it can shelf plans to buy water from district growers by having them pump from underground aquifers and dump it into district canals.

The SSJID staff has received inquiries from growers in the district asking if there is a way they can help other farmers in the state since SSJID is fairly well situated.

Shields said one option might be paying growers to pump their own water in lieu of taking district water. That would free up water for the district to sell to the Bureau of Reclamation to help meet Central Valley Project contracts or to the State Water Bank.

The district is proceeding with strict conservation measures including eliminating spills through more aggressive monitoring by ditch tenders. The district has prepared maps and a data base to identify all lands in the district that are eligible to receive water so there is no illegal diversion of water or inadvertent applications of water to land that is not eligible to receive district water.

The SSJID is one of the few irrigation districts in the state where farmers are expected to be able to irrigate to bring crops to market – including row crops – and simply not just try to keep orchards and vines alive.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a drought emergency as California enters its third year of drought. Recent storms have helped but snow fall would have to be 120 percent of normal before the end of March – it is just under 80 percent so far in the Sierra – in order for the state to get by without cutbacks.

The governor is asking urban users to reduce water use 20 percent to free up supplies for other parts of the state that have more dire conditions. The Bureau is not delivering any water to farm users until further notice. The State Water Project is only delivering 15 percent of farm allocations.