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SSJID conservation program cutting edge
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The South San Joaquin Irrigation District is cutting edge among California’s agricultural water purveyors when it comes to conservation practices.

This past week the SSJID board adopted a sweeping agricultural water conservation program that partners with growers to reduce water use. It was the same week that the Delta Water Master Crag Wilson unveiled what he believes should be established as best practices for agriculture. Every one of the recommendations mirror what the SSJID board voted to put in place and launch next month.

 “Our board has always aggressively looked at ways to conserve water,” SSJID General Manger Jeff Shields noted. “What (the board) adopted this week is definitely cutting edge.”

Shields noted interest is already high among growers wanting to partner with SSJID as the district will provide part of the money to put water reduction practices in place. The program is limited and is on a first come, first served basis.

The initial $1.4 million program for 2011 is designed to increase water use efficiency while at the same time lowering cost production for farmers. The strategy is to help farmers stay economically viable while meeting emerging state regulations that are essential for protecting the district’s surface water rights.

There are indirect benefits for the district’s urban customers. By increasing the efficiency of faming and reducing costs it will enhance the value of vineyards and orchards further to make it viable for long-term farming to help resist development pressures.

Also by reducing water waste, it reduces the pressure on limited supplies of water to assure that cities as well as farmers have a secure source of surface water to meet future needs.

It is yet another benefit of the “Tri-Dam Project” profits that are now generating well over $10 million a year from wholesale power sales for the SSJID. The district has an undistributed reserve pushing $70 million. They are using the Tri-Dam Project proceeds as the financial linchpin to enter the retail power service to reduce rates at least 15 percent across the board compared to what PG&E charges. The proceeds are also being used to convert open canals to pressurized delivery systems to reduce water waste and increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent.

The minimum field size for consideration for the on-farm water conservation program is 10 acres. The district will consider smaller parcels on a case-by-case basis to determine if adequate water savings can be accomplished to justify the investment.

There are three primary areas that farmers can get cost sharing although the district is open to other methods.

One is measurement for pumped deliveries. It involves installing a flow meter. The district’s cost share for delivery management via pumped deliveries will be 80 percent of the actual cost but not more than $4,500.

Converting from flood irrigation to sprinkler or drip/micro irrigation is another way. The conservation measure includes the installation of the pump, filtration, mainlines, laterals, and emitters for the system. Adoption of the conservation measure requires installation of an SSJID approvable pump to allow for the pumping for canal water along with installing flow meters. The district will pay for 50 percent of the cost of such systems but not more than $825 per acre of production.

The third method is putting in place a tail water recovery system to prevent runoff of excess water. It would involve collecting and conveying the excess water back to the head of the field from which the tail water was generated or to a nearby field for the purpose of recovering and reapplying the tail water to supplement irrigation.

The district’s share for tail water recovery systems will be 50 percent of the actual cost or not more than $600 per acre of production.

The district will also pay a one-time payment of 75 percent of the actual cost or not more than $2,250 per field per year for scientific irrigation scheduling services.

Likewise soil moisture monitoring services will be covered up to 75 percent of the actual cost but not more than $125 per field per year.

All of the programs are on a first come, first served basis.

The initial $1.4 million for 2011 includes $190,000 for delivery measurement for pumped deliveries, $475,000 for conversion from flood irrigation to sprinklers or drip/micro irrigation, $190,000 for tail water recovery systems to reduce runoff, $47,500 for scientific irrigation scheduling, $47,500 for soil moisture monitoring, and $190,000 for grower proposals.