Water starts flowing in South San Joaquin Irrigation District canals Monday as the region’s farmers face the bleakest drought year since 1924 when nearly half of the county’s farms faced foreclosure due to a lack of water.
But unlike most farmers elsewhere in the San Joaquin Valley, SSJID growers are expected to get adequate water to bring crops to market including those who just rejoined or started up service from the SSJID for the first time in recent months. The SSJID board also established the irrigation runs in 14 day cycles.
Farmers as well as the cities of Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy have surface water this year thanks to a decision voters made immediately following the 1924 drought to build the original Melones Dam. Part of the deal struck with the Bureau of Reclamation when they built the New Melones Reservoir in the 1970s assured SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District — the operators of the Melones Reservoir – rights to the first 600,000 acre feet of inflow from the Stanislaus River watershed. They also are allowed to have a water conservation account.
The district expects to draw down 72,000 acre feet from 79,000 acre feet of water currently in the account to make it through this year.
The inflow into New Melones as of Tuesday was only 159,000 acre feet. If the inflow this year reaches 377,000 acre feet, the SSJID won’t have to tap the conservation account.
“I doubt we’re going to reach 377,000 acre feet with the conditions that exist today in the Sierra,” noted SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields.
Current conditions mean that no other water agency other than SSJID and OID will receive water from New Melones Reservoir this year under terms of contracts and the two districts’ senior superior water rights.
The Bureau, however, has told other districts it will deliver water.
The SSJID has made it clear in letters that should the Bureau starts distributing water to other districts before the Bureau meets its contractual obligations with SSJID they will take steps to vigorously defend their water rights.