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Pressure for less stress
System will increase crop production by 30%
Knife River Construction employees are burying some 24 miles of pipe for the new pressurized water delivery system in South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts Division 9 south of Manteca and west of Ripon. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Jeff Shields understands that folks who live among orchards and dairies in South Manteca and just west of Ripon are getting a bit stressed with all of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District construction.

“They are used to having maybe a car or two an hour go down their roads and now we have construction crews working in the roads and trucks running all over the place,” said Shields, who serves as SSJID general manager.

Shields also is apologizing in advance for another inconvenience that will take place over the next two weeks: More than 400 truckloads of dirt are being moved from where one seven-acre pond is being dug to the location of a second pond that will be created two years from now.

It is all part of a $14 million Division 9 projects that ultimately will reduce stress on almonds and other crops to increase production by as much as 30 percent based on University of California studies.  The project - that is putting in a forced delivery system to allow pressurization for growers to use cutting edge drip irrigation - will avoid the need for farmers to pump underground water that has a growing salinity problem. Continued application of water with heavy salt on trees ultimately will kill them plus render soil useless.

The project - made possible with money SSJID is generating each year from its share of Tri-Dam Project hydroelectric sales - involves burying 24 miles of  24-inch in diameter PVC pipe. The contractor is burying an average of 600 feet of pipeline each day.

They are taking care to avoid young trees that often have been planted in the district’s easement. And - in the case of a barn near Melton Road that was inadvertently built within the SSJID easement, the irrigation district has altered plans to jog the pipe around it instead of forcing the farmer to remove the structure.

Originally, the district considered doing the project over two years but instead opted for one year instead to minimize disruption. The construction is on a tight schedule. Work started July 15 and needs to be completed by mid-February to have everything in place in time for the 2012 irrigation season.

All of the growers in Division 9 that has mostly almonds have signed up for eventual connection to the cutting edge pressurized system that is the first of its kind in California.  The goal is to reduce water use and to improve water and air quality. It is designed as a demonstration project for SSJID. If it performs as well as it was designed, the district will then look to convert flood irrigation in its other eight divisions to a pressurized delivery system.

“Other farmers elsewhere in the district are a bit envious and are looking forward to it possibly being expanded,” noted SSJID engineer Sam Bologna.

The federal government was impressed with the scope of the project and its scientific applications for crop and water management so they kicked in $1 million. They also made $1.1 million available to growers in the form of grants to help with costs on their side of the pipeline. It is saving the average grower $30,000.

The system allows the grower to use an iPhone to electronically order the delivery of water instead of calling to schedule with a ditch tender.

The system also constantly monitors water application and deliveries in real time providing both the growers and district with a wealth of information via computers on water use.

The pressurized system allows growers to add liquid fertilizer to their waterlines to further increase efficiencies.

It will eliminate the need to run diesel powered pumps or to pay for expensive electricity to run irrigation systems.  Directly applying water and nutrients at the tree’s roots avoids stress caused by flood irrigation. Shields noted the flooding and then drying out of the soil stresses the trees considerably.

Farmers who still want or need to flood irrigate - such as those who are growing corn - can still do so. The pipes that are now buried for gravity delivery of water to farmers have been kept in place. The pressurized system runs right alongside the existing pipe.